This past February, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proposed the idea of a binational roundtable for businesswomen — the United States-Canada Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders — that involved US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka. The Trudeau government’s intention was to apparently build a relationship with the Trump administration particularly given its threat to rip up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford came up with the plan and pitched it to Jared Kushner (Trump’s senior adviser and Ivanka’s husband) who backed the idea.
At that time, The Globe and Mail reported, “During the presidential campaign, Ms. Trump gave a speech at the Republican National Convention introducing her father where she cast Mr. Trump as a champion of equal pay for women. Ms. Trump’s poise and devotion to her father have turned her into a key surrogate with the ability to soften Mr. Trump’s often rough edges. Ms. Trump also helped shore up her father’s standing with some female voters, particularly after the release [in October 2016] of a 2005 video in which he boasted in lewd terms about groping women.”
Not long after the launch of the roundtable, The Guardian reported, “The reality of working in a factory making clothes for Ivanka Trump’s label has been laid bare, with employees speaking of being paid so little they cannot live with their children, anti-union intimidation and women being offered a bonus if they don’t take time off while menstruating.”
The newspaper notes that Trump’s sweatshop in China has “a host of violations at the plant including salaries below China’s legal minimum wage, managers verbally abusing workers and ‘violations of women’s rights’,” while similar complaints were heard about her factory in Subang, Indonesia.
This isn’t dissimilar to the conditions of more than 1 million Mexican workers – mostly women – employed in low-wage “maquiladora” factories along Mexico’s northern border. Maquiladora employment in Mexico grew 86 percent in the first five years after NAFTA was implemented. Just two years after NAFTA came into force, Human Rights Watch reported, “Major U.S.-based and other corporations routinely subject prospective female employees to mandatory urine testing, invasive questions about their contraceptive use, menses schedule or sexual habits in order to screen out pregnant women and deny them jobs.”
Back in February, Globe and Mail columnist Leah McLaren wrote, “These are the things we do for trade deals [but] was it really necessary for our feminist Prime Minister to make such an utter mockery of women’s rights (which are under real threat in the United States at the moment) while he was on a social visit to casually secure broader points of the North American free-trade agreement?” And Press Progress has noted the NAFTA strategy behind the women’s business group and how it helped Trump given he “has been accused of sexually assaulting over a dozen women.”
Trudeau should denounce the violations of women’s rights at the low-wage factories owned by Ivanka Trump and both recognize and address the injustices against women that have taken place under NAFTA.
Trudeau’s neo-liberal trade, water & energy policies negate his self-described feminism (May 2017)
Self-described feminist prime minister champions non-feminist CETA (April 2017)