On Tuesday in Hyderabad, India, Ivanka Trump gave a speech that promoted female entrepreneurship and economic power.
“We must ensure that women entrepreneurs have access to capital, access to networks and mentors and access to equitable laws,” she said at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, noting that if India closed its labor force gender gap by a half, the economy could grow by $150 billion in three years.
She made no mention of her apparel company’s use of low-wage workers in India and other countries to stitch her clothes.
The first daughter and White House adviser is in India as part of a two-day trip in which she continued to advocate for women’s economic empowerment and attended a gala dinner with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She came without State Department officials, a departure from years past when top-level U.S. envoys joined the conference.
To some, Trump’s appeals for women empowerment contrasted sharply with her own business practices.
Trump has called for more support for working women around the world, but she has remained silent about the largely female garment workforce in India and other Asian countries that makes her clothing.
Her brand — which Trump no longer runs day to day but continues to own — has declined to identify the factories that produce her goods or detail how the workers are treated or paid.
More than 20 labor and human rights groups co-signed a letter to Trump this month urging her brand to disclose the names of its supplier factories and allow independent groups to monitor its conditions, among other steps. She has not yet responded.
Trump’s apparel company exclusively relies on foreign factories in places like Bangladesh, Indonesia, China and India, where mostly female workers are paid a few dollars a day for long hours, industry experts have said.
“If Ivanka truly wants her legacy to include protecting working women,” said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, “she needs to start with the women in her supply chain.”
Earlier this year, The Washington Post found that Trump’s apparel company lags behind many others in the industry in the way it monitors treatment of its mostly female workers.
At the time, executives told The Washington Post that the brand had started looking into hiring a nonprofit workers’ rights group to increase oversight and help improve factory conditions. Brand president Abigail Klem said she was planning her first trip to tour facilities that make Ivanka Trump products.
“We recognize that our brand name carries a special responsibility,” she said.
But four months later, it is unclear if the company pursued any of those steps. Asked about the status of Klem’s trip or the hiring of a workers’ rights group, the company declined to comment.
Executives referred to a statement earlier this year from Klem, who said the company “is committed to only working with licensees who maintain internationally recognized labor standards across their supply chains.”
At the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad — nicknamed “Cyberabad” because it’s home to such tech companies as Microsoft, Facebook and Google — entrepreneurs and business leaders praised the first daughter. They described her as an elegant and professional working mother who built her own business and has been a strong advocate for women while serving as an adviser to her father in the White House.
“She is a very fierce and independent woman. That’s what I admire about her,” said Renuka Diwan, the co-founder of an agriculture start-up in Pune. “She’s successful in her own right. Nobody has to introduce her as Donald Trump’s daughter. She has made a name for herself.”
In India, a country of 1.3 billion people, empowering women is particularly challenging, analysts say. The rate of women joining the workforce has dropped, particularly in rural areas, even as incomes have grown. Female entrepreneurs face specific challenges: Only about 14 percent of businesses are headed by women, a third in the agricultural sector.
Female business owners have difficulty accessing capital and being taken seriously in a business culture that is male-driven, entrepreneurs say.
“There are many challenges,” said Thejaswi S., a Bangalore-based entrepreneur creating a line of affordably priced nutrition bars and who uses only his second initial. “They say, ‘You are female, this is the age you are supposed to get married, not get into business, you are too young to head a company.’ This is what people say, even in my own family.”
Women make up less than 25 percent of the enrollment in higher education, notes Vijayaraghavan M. Chariar, a professor of rural development and technology at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi.