Labour abuse still prevalent in glove industry: What says you, MARGMA?

THE Malaysian glove maker fraternity, in particular the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (MARGMA), needs to urgently address the latest claim by UK mainstream newspaper, The Independent, that elements of forced labour are still prevalent in gloves imported from Malaysia.

The damning article entitled “NHS reliant on exploitative Malaysian factories for PPE, expert says” claims that UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is wholly reliant on the Malaysian glove manufacturing industry where the exploitation and degradation of migrant workers is “endemic”.

According to The Independent, at least 16 glove suppliers used by the UK Government source their products from Malaysia.

The country’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has also said that 760.98 million surgical and examination gloves have been sourced from Malaysian factories since January 2020.

Citing a government-commissioned project investigating modern slavery by Professor Alex Hughes and her team at Newcastle University, The Independent said the exploitation of workers had worsened over the course of the COVID-19 crisis.

In surveys and interviews, staff reported a rise in isolation, restrictions on movement, abusive working and living conditions, and excessive overtime.

Other indicators of forced labour – particularly around deceptive recruitment, withholding of passports and intimidation – were just as prominent before the pandemic, the study found.

“Earlier this year, the DHSC admitted that 128 million gloves used within the NHS had been sourced from Brightway (Holdings Sdn Bhd) and 425 million from Top Glove (Corp Bhd) – two Malaysian companies that have been accused of extensive labour abuses – via an intermediate supplier,” noted The Independent.

“A further 240 million units were provided by Supermax (Corp Bhd), another Malaysia-based company subject to allegations of illegal labour practices.”

Nevertheless, the three companies all said their operations were in line with national human rights and labour standards while claiming that they had enforced stringent measures across all factories, according to The Independent.

But with a minimum of 16 suppliers providing Malaysian-made gloves to the UK, Hughes who is an expert in economic geography said this raises the possibility that millions more items manufactured in illegal labour settings have made their way into the NHS supply chain.

“It is sickening to think that people in Malaysia making that PPE (personal protective equipment) are being treated as slaves in order to line the pockets of a handful of ruthless employers,” commented the Labour party’s shadow minister for international trade Bill Esterson.

“There must be a better way to look after the health and care workers without relying on forced labour.”

Esterson went on to urge the UK Government to use its massive purchasing power to force higher labour standards in other countries. “Instead, they (the UK Government) choose to enable slavery in countries such as Malaysia,” he lamented. – July 21, 2021


Photo credit: Vincent Thian/Associated Press

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