Ivanka Trump spotlights global human trafficking

Ivanka Trump, who serves as a top adviser to President Donald Trump, used her platform Tuesday to shine a light on human trafficking, which she called an “ugly stain on civilization.”

“Combating this crime here in the United States as well as around the globe is in both our moral and our strategic interest,” she said at a State Department event unveiling the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

Ending human trafficking “is a major foreign policy priority for the Trump administration,” she said.

While a far cry from human trafficking, Trump’s own apparel and accessories brand came under some scrutiny earlier this year in light of a report of bad conditions inside one of its Chinese manufacturers, according to The Washington Post. Trump took a formal leave of absence from the brand in January, but kept her ownership stake and moved the assets into a trust.

It also comes one day after she told Fox News that she “(tries) to stay out of politics.” But as a top adviser to the President, her work on several issues has signaled an unequivocal embrace of her powerful — and political — role in the White House.

In the last week, she’s attended meetings and events around Washington on a range of issues she’s named as top priorities, including human trafficking, global entrepreneurship, childcare tax credits, workforce and workplace development and technological innovation.

Getting to work

Tuesday’s event wasn’t the first daughter’s first foray into discussing human trafficking, a chronically under-reported problem that affects at least 20.9 million people globally in both forced labor and sex trafficking.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump “somebody who is doing a great deal to raise the profile of this issue.”

In February, she held a meeting alongside the President and members representing several organizations fighting the problem. And in May, she hosted a roundtable discussion with bipartisan members of Congress and organizations on legislation ahead of Capitol Hill’s “Combating Trafficking and Child Protection Week.”

Later that month on a stop in Italy during the President’s first foreign trip, she met with officials and survivors at the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Vatican-affiliated NGO.

“While in Rome, I had an opportunity to talk first hand with human trafficking survivors. They told me their harrowing stories, how they were trapped in this ugly, dark web, how they survived, how they escaped and how they are very slowly reconstructing their lives,” she said Tuesday, noting that the White House also has its own council of survivors.

“We cannot meaningfully address this pervasive issue without the brave voice of survivors at the table. They can help us understand what they experienced and they will play a leading role in solving this pervasive crisis,” she said.

The Ivanka Trump brand

Trump’s eponymous apparel and accessories brand, Ivanka Trump HQ, manufactures clothes abroad, including in China, a country listed in this year’s TIP report as one of the worst offenders for human trafficking.

“The brand has and has always had a zero tolerance policy on human trafficking and takes the integrity of their supply chain very seriously,” a spokesperson for the brand told CNN.

But the brand faced other problems when an audit in October last year of one Chinese factory used by the brand and other brands found workers were working nearly 60 hours a week with wages around $62, the Post reported. It’s not clear whether Ivanka Trump-brand products were being manufactured at the time of the inspection, per the Post’s report. The audit did not disclose the factory’s name or location in China.

Brand president Abigail Klem said in a statement that the brand has set a vendor code of conduct.

“Ivanka Trump HQ is committed to only working with licensees who maintain internationally recognized labor standards across their supply chains. Our licensees and their manufacturers, subcontractors and suppliers must comply with all applicable local and international labor laws, and the legal and ethical practices set forth in our vendor code of conduct,” Klem said.

It’s complicated

Trump cited specific progress by the administration in her remarks, including “an executive order designed to strengthen the enforcement of federal law in regards to transnational criminal organizations, including traffickers,” and steps taken to ensure Department of Homeland Security personnel are trained to combat trafficking at points of entry into the United States.

As she presses forward with her work on the topic, further specific policy prescriptions become more complicated, with partisan divides on issues like immigration and criminalization of prostitution.

“Even if she were to propose something promising, the political situation is so dicey that there isn’t trust there,” said a source in the anti-trafficking community, who requested anonymity in order speak freely. The source noted that many activists are concerned by the administration’s broader immigration policies and rhetoric.

Undocumented workers could be taken advantage of if they are further pushed into the shadows, activists say. The threat of deportation is a key indicator of areas with labor trafficking problems, and many traffickers force their victims to let their visas expire as a tool of control to keep victims in the United States.

The administration’s executive order on sanctuary cities is another area of concern. Some organizations involved with survivor services are concerned that undocumented victims will not reach out for fear of deportation, which also impacts law enforcement’s ability to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes.

Advocates also fear how the administration’s travel ban could impact trafficking. Refugees and people in conflict zones are vulnerable to trafficking, advocates say, and ISIS has been documented putting refugees into various forms of slavery.

Many in the community are also concerned about funding for human trafficking prevention and services for survivors, which relies on federal funding from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security, often through funds distributed through other organizations.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about how their policies might affect human trafficking.

“It’s weirdly one of the few issues where we’re able to work with Democrats and Republicans. Both sides generally agree that funding is needed, but the administration is a question mark,” said another anti-trafficking advocate, who asked for permission to speak anonymously so as not to jeopardize federal funding.

Ivanka Trump’s involvement with the issue is still cause for some optimism.

“We want to be cautiously optimistic. There’s a lot of skepticism that anything could happen, but it’s reassuring that this is even being discussed,” the source said. “We want to see results, whether it’s more funding or laws that are changed or strengthened. That these conversations are happening, that they’re looking into this is a good sign.”

Trump, who has demurred from wading into partisan issues thus far, made it clear Tuesday that this is a topic she is willing to fight for.

“On a personal level, as a mother, this is much more than a policy priority. It is a clarion call to action in defense of the vulnerable, the abused, and the exploited,” she said.

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Alton Sterling’s children sue Baton Rouge police over his death

Alton Sterling’s five children have filed a wrongful death lawsuit, claiming their father’s fatal shooting last year by a Baton Rouge police officer violated his civil rights and fits a pattern of excessive force and racism within the police department’s ranks.

The suit, filed Tuesday in Louisiana state court, claims the two white officers who encountered Sterling, who is black, on July 5, at a Baton Rouge convenience store used unnecessary force.

The suit’s claims mirror allegations that federal prosecutors weighed when they considered — but last month declined — to lodge civil rights charges against Officers Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake II. Those case files were handed over to Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who is contemplating charges.

‘Shocked and appalled’

Without divulging specifics, the suit highlights a letter sent May 25 to Police Chief Carl Dabadie in which Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome refers to “very disturbing details surrounding the actions of Officer Salamoni” that both officials received “during a consultation with the Department of Justice.”

Salamoni’s “termination is warranted,” writes Broome, who notes she was “shocked and appalled by this information.”

The Baton Rouge Police Department declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing “pending litigation,” Sgt. Don Coppola told CNN. Salamoni and Lake remain on paid administrative leave, he said.

The Sterling family’s lawsuit names as defendants the city of Baton Rouge and its police department, along with Dabadie, Salamoni, Lake and the department’s liability insurer.

The lawsuit, which seeks an undisclosed amount for punitive damages, comes on the heels of settlements this month in two other high-profile cases that left black men dead at the hands of police.

The family of Philando Castile, who was shot and killed last year by a St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer, reached a $3 million settlement with the city days after the officer in that case was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter. The family of Michael Brown, who was shot and killed in 2014 by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, settled its wrongful death lawsuit against that city for an undisclosed amount.

‘Tolerating racist behavior’

Sterling, 37, was selling CDs and DVDs outside the Triple S Food Market when the officers approached him in response to a 911 call that a man with a gun was near the store. Sterling “displayed no aggressive behavior or manners,” the suit claims. Sterling at the time was carrying a .38-caliber revolver, with six rounds in it, the Justice Department has said.

Almost immediately, Salamoni pointed his service weapon at Sterling’s head and yelled, “B**ch I will f***ing kill you,” “I am going to shoot you in your mother f***ing head,” the suit claims.

The officer should have known that the “continued escalation and provocation would have caused a negative encounter with Mr. Sterling,” the suit states.

“In less than one second, Officer Salamoni yelled at Mr. Sterling and then pulled his gun and fired three shots into Mr. Sterling’s chest,” it states. “Officer Salamoni then fired three more rounds needlessly and excessively into the back of Mr. Sterling.”

The fact that Lake did not fire a single round proves that Sterling was not an imminent risk, the lawsuit notes, adding that the officers did not render “urgent medical care or first aid” after mortally wounding Sterling.

The suit also takes aim at Dabadie, claiming the police chief failed to properly “train all active police officers under his control and supervision.”

Dabadie’s department “failed to have a written policy on the use of deadly force, and has a history of incidents of excessive force, racism in the BRPD towards members of the African American community and inadequate oversight by decision makers in the BRPD and the City,” the suit states.

The suit accuses the department of having “a long standing pervasive policy of tolerating racist behavior of some of its officers.” It cites local news reports of alleged racist behavior by Baton Rouge officers beginning shortly after Hurricane Katrina and continuing through protests that followed last month’s Justice Department announcement.

It also claims the city “did not properly examine and scrutinize the backgrounds of Officers Lake and Salamoni.”

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Half of Americans are spending their entire paycheck (or more)

Nearly half of Americans say their expenses are equal to or greater than their income, according to a new study from the Center for Financial Services Innovation. And for those 18 to 25 the percentage is over half, up to 54 percent.

“Half of America has no financial cushion,” says Jennifer Tescher, president and CEO of CFSI, which released the study. “They are living really close to the edge.”

Of the 25 percent who say they have too much debt, 96 percent report being stressed. This kind of financial stress has lasting health effects for those constantly working to cover the nut, says Tescher.

“We can’t deal with their health problems if we can’t deal with their financial health,” she says.

With one out of every two people maxed-out with expenses, it is likely you or someone you know. “It’s your co-workers, the receptionist, the guy mowing your lawn, the woman who takes care of your kids.”

Maybe it’s you.

Why we’re struggling

Perhaps we’re overspending? Maybe the gig economy isn’t working for us?

Certainly, we can all do the hard work of cutting back on our expenses, says Tescher. But she says the results of this study show something more structural than individual spending.

“People are spending a shockingly large amount of income on housing,” she says. “They have to pay for transportation to get to a job. These costs are going up while their wages stay the same.”

Another major contributor, according to the study, is irregular income. Nearly 40 percent of those who spend as much or more than their paychecks have volatile income, which means it varies from day to day, week to week, month to month.

On average, families experienced income volatility five months out of the year, according to the recent book, “Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty,” by Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider, who is also at CFSI.

And in those volatile months, income could vary by 25 percent, meaning $1,000 in income could be $1,250 one month, $750 the next.

How do we get out of the rut?

New financial tools aim to help people manage their money more efficiently. Activehours allows you to get part of your pay ahead of payday in a way that is not a payday loan. There is also a tool called Even, which, in addition to helping you budget, does just that: it evens out your pay from high periods and shoots it to you when you have lower periods.

But Tescher doesn’t see tech tools as a magic bullet.

“We have a series of structural challenges in this country that require policy solutions,” she says. “We need to remove the stigma of talking about money problems and make it clear that a lot of people are struggling.”

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BMW adding 1,000 jobs in South Carolina

BMW is adding 1,000 jobs at a plant in South Carolina, its largest production facility in the world.

The German car company announced Monday that it will invest $600 million at the plant in Spartanburg, which produced 411,000 vehicles last year and employs about 9,000 people. BMW will add the jobs by 2021.

About 70% of the vehicles made at the plant are sent to other countries, helping make BMW the largest vehicle exporter from the United States.

BMW chairman Harald Krüger credited “free trade and open markets” with making the plant a success.

“We will keep investing in our people and in our business in the U.S.,” he said in a statement. “Therefore, I remain confident that our footprint and commitment will continue to grow not only in the great state of South Carolina, but also in the United States in the years to come.”

BMW made the announcement as the plant celebrated its 25th anniversary. It makes cars for BMW’s X3, X4, X5 and X6 lines, and it will make the BMW X7, which is coming to market late next year.

Even with its success in South Carolina, the company has been knocked by President Donald Trump.

In January, he told a German news magazine that BMW should reconsider plans to build a $1 billion plant in Mexico. The automaker wants to build its BMW 3 Series sedan there starting in 2019. BMW has remained committed to that plant.

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Emmett Till’s civil rights marker vandalized

A civil rights marker about Emmett Till on the Mississippi Freedom Trail has been vandalized twice in the past two months, according to the firm that manages the trail.

The historical marker outside the grocery store where 14-year-old Till was accused of whistling at a white woman while visiting his family has to be refurbished due to the damage by vandals, said Allan Hammons, whose company manages the Mississippi Freedom Trail.

He said that in May someone scratched the marker, and over the weekend, it was noticed that someone had peeled off the back of the marker, where it contained photos and writings about Till.

“This site is a significant moment in the civil rights movement,” Hammons said. “People were outraged and shocked at this incredible criminal act. What Mississippi chose to do by creating the freedom trail was committing themselves to telling the unvarnished truth.”

Till was kidnapped and lynched in Money, Mississippi, in 1955 after the incident at the Bryant Grocery store. Two white men were arrested in the case, but were acquitted by an all-white jury in Mississippi that same year.

Till’s death, and the decision of his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, to show her son’s beaten body in an open casket, was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. His mother allowed newspapers to print photos of Till’s disfigured face in his casket, which fired up the civil rights movement.

The marker outside the former Bryant Grocery store was erected in 2011. Hammons said it will be removed this week and taken to his office for the necessary repairs, which will cost about $500.

Last year, the sign marking the site of the teen’s death was found riddled with bullet holes.

Hammons said it is unknown if the vandalism was racially motivated or just a random crime. Till’s marker is the only marker on the freedom trail that has been vandalized, he said.

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