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In over a decade working as a labor rights investigator in China, Hua Haifeng has had more than 20 run-ins with the local police.
He’s always been let off with a warning.
It’s a streak that ended in late May, when Hua was arrested while investigating a factory that made shoes for Ivanka Trump’s brand and several others, including Marc Fisher and Kendall+Kylie.
“I’ve devoted myself to this work for about 14 years, this is the first time I’ve been detained,” the activist told CNNMoney on Tuesday.
Hua said the circumstances of his month-long detention suggest the actions of local government officials may be motivated by political sensitivities around the Ivanka Trump brand.
“The factory is connected to Ivanka, which will bring global attention,” he said.
Hua and two of his colleagues, Li Zhao and Su Heng, were picked up in the southern city of Ganzhou by Chinese authorities in late May before being released on bail two weeks ago. The trio were working undercover at two factories run by Huajian Group, investigating labor practices at the firm for New York-based advocacy group China Labor Watch.
A spokesman for the Ganzhou Public Security Bureau said Tuesday that he was not aware of the current situation when asked for comment about the activist’s claims. The Chinese government has previously said the men were put under criminal detention because of their use of “illegal monitoring devices.”
Related: China frees activists who probed factory that made Ivanka Trump shoes, group says
China Labor Watch says it uncovered evidence of worker abuse at multiple Huajian Group factories. The group says that video evidence shows that employees are made to work for up to 18 hours a day without being paid overtime.
Huajian Group has previously denied the allegations, but the company told CNNMoney in early June that it would investigate another accusation made by China Labor Watch — that it illegally hired students as interns. The factory owner did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
The Ivanka Trump company did not respond to a request for comment, but it previously told CNNMoney that its products haven’t been made at the factory in question since March. It added that all the factories it uses “are required to operate within strict social compliance regulations.”
Ivanka Trump stepped down from her management role in the Ivanka Trump company when she took a job in her father’s administration, but still owns part of the business.
Kendall+Kylie said in a statement it does not comment on its procedures but also said all factories it works with “are required to operate within strict social compliance regulations.”
Marc Fisher did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Related: Ivanka Trump’s firm seeks new trademarks in China, reviving ethical concerns
Hua said the three activists were taken from their hotel to a local police station on the afternoon of May 28 without being given an explanation for why they were being detained. He was questioned for five hours, mainly about his work experience and the reason behind his trip to the region, he said.
The next day, Hua said police spent several hours interrogating him about his watch, which had a hidden camera inside, before sending all three men to a local detention center. The 36-year old activist said police repeatedly asked him why he was documenting the factory during his month-long detention.
Hua said he has not left his home in Hubei province since his release on June 28, and is required to report to local police every Monday while he awaits trial to explain what he did the previous week and what he plans to do in the week to come.
The activist said he was happy to see his family but heartbroken at the ordeal they had to go through.
“It was definitely a scary experience for my wife and children,” he said. “My wife looks so much older than before, I know she must have gone through a lot while I was away.”
Hua has no plans to abandon activism, however.
“I’ll continue my work, but in different ways,” he said.
— Rob McLean, Serenitie Wang and Fred Lai contributed to this report.
CNNMoney (Hong Kong ) First published July 11, 2017: 10:00 AM ET
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