Friday 20 September 2019

Ivanka Trump's visit to India business summit raises questions about her brand

Ivanka Trump speaks during the opening of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad (AP)
Ivanka Trump speaks during the opening of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad (AP)

Ivanka Trump has described the hurdles faced by women during a speech at a business conference in India, but her solo outing also highlighted questions about whether her message of empowering poor women matches her actions.

Ms Trump's speech at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in the southern city of Hyderabad was broadcast live by major news channels throughout India, which is treating her trip like a royal visit.

A build-up worthy of a Bollywood musical included cultural references that ranged from independence leader Mahatma Gandhi to the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

The city cleared away beggars and filled potholes ahead of the visit by Ms Trump, who is senior presidential adviser to her father, President Donald Trump.

"As a former entrepreneur, employer, and executive in a male-dominated industry, I've seen first-hand that all too often women must do more than their male counterparts to prove themselves at work, while also disproportionately caring for their families at home," she said in her speech.

But the conference's focus on female entrepreneurs raised questions about some of the commercial decisions made by Ms Trump and her namesake brand.

Critics have accused her of failing to use her leadership role to call out labour and human rights abuses, particularly in China, where the bulk of her US merchandise ships from, and they point out that she has failed to take a public stand on alleged abuses in her brand's own supply chain.

She stepped back from day-to-day management of her brand before taking on an official role as White House adviser, but still retains an ownership interest.

"After my father's election, I saw an opportunity to leave my businesses for the privilege of serving our country, and empowering all Americans to succeed," she said in the speech.

Abigail Klem, president of the Ivanka Trump brand, has called supply chain integrity "a top priority", but the brand has not joined the growing number of companies that publicly identify their manufacturers.

A September investigation by the Associated Press showed that Ms Trump's supply chain has become more opaque than ever since she took her White House role, making it impossible to know who her company is doing business with around the world.

Earlier this month, 23 rights groups signed a letter urging Ms Trump, her brand and two licensees to publish the names and addresses of suppliers.

They also urged Ms Trump and her brand to publicly demand that the Chinese government not prosecute three activists detained this summer while investigating the brand's supply chain, and allow independent monitoring of factories.

Ms Trump was joined at the conference by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.

"What you are achieving here is truly extraordinary," Ms Trump said. "From your childhood selling tea to your election as India's prime minister, you've proven that transformational change is possible."

"This event showcases the close ties between the United States of America and India," Mr Modi said. "It underlines our shared commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation."

The clean-up of Hyderabad, a southern technology hub, began a month ahead of the conference, when the city began rounding up several hundred homeless people and beggars.

Officials said the drive against begging was launched because two international events were taking place in the city - the entrepreneurship summit and the World Telugu Conference in December.

Begging is a criminal offence in India and can be punished by as much as 10 years in prison, although the law is rarely enforced.

More than 1,200 people were attending the three-day conference, although not everyone was thrilled about Ms Trump's presence.

"It's now being called Ivanka Trump's summit. It totally overshadows all our work," said Sangeeta Agarawal, chief executive of US start-up Helpsy Health. "We feel that's it become more about her."


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