THE UK continues to source for personal protective equipment (PPE) from companies that have been accused of modern-day slavery, despite the latter’s promise to crack down on such suppliers.
UK daily, The Independent today reported that UK frontliners are still using PPE’s purchased from Malaysian firm, Brightway Holdings Sdn Bhd, which is currently facing about 30 charges and a fine over alleged failure to comply with Malaysia’s Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities (Amendment) 2019 or Act 446.
A number of nations, including the US, are considering to ban the purchase of products made by the company.
The daily reported that that at least one hospital in south England, under the National Health Service (NHS), are said to still be using PPE’s manufactured by Brightway.
A source at the hospital told the daily that a large consignment was delivered In February. “There’ll be thousands of Brightway gloves in circulation throughout the wards,” the source said. “There’s loads of boxes. We had a whole load.”
The daily also found gloves supplied by another Malaysian company, Supermax Corporation, which was also accused of labour abuses.
Employees at one Supermax factory claimed to have been forced to work for 12-hours, for up to 29 days without rest. The company has denied the allegations.
A number of glove manufacturers in Malaysia have been linked to illegal recruitment of workers from Bangladesh and Nepal, where they were alleged to have been forced to live in squalid conditions.
UK Gov’t not attentive enough
NHS sources told the daily that the wrongful procurement happened as the beginning of the pandemic, where confusion, miscommunication and panic in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), led to officials to source for PPE supplies from wherever they can.
“These supplies have come through the DHSC mechanism, so I’m sure this has happened elsewhere,” the source said. “I understand they’ve got huge warehouses stocked with this stuff,” sources told The Independent.
The daily previously reported that the UK Government had ignored internal warnings over the Malaysian glove industry and bought PPE from firms accused of modern-day slavery.
On related matter, migrant workers specialist Andy Hall to the daily: “The presence of these tainted gloves in UK hospitals shows once again how the Government’s claims to be addressing modern slavery in its public procurement supply chain – despite having been told specifically many times that such companies are complicit in modern slavery – are empty rhetoric.”
The issue also received attention from Nusrat Uddin, a lawyer who deals with trafficking and modern-day slavery, who urged his Government to walk the talk.
“The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is not fit for purpose with regards to improving transparency in supply chains.
“The Act requires certain companies, and soon public bodies, to publish steps they have taken to tackle modern slavery in their supply chains,” she said. “However, there are no set standards upon which those steps are assessed, and so even if companies are taking ineffective measures, they still fulfil Government requirements.”
Medical Fair and Ethical Trade Group co-founder, Prof Mahmood Bhutta urged the UK Government to stand up for the workers it claims to protect.
“We know that when the Government awarded contracts for supply of PPE it stipulated that companies who won those contracts must comply with UK law on modern slavery in their supply chains. Time and time again, we have witnessed a brazen disregard of those contractual obligations.
“When will these companies be held to account? When can I put on gloves at work without feeling I am complicit in human suffering?” asked Mahmood, who is also a NHS surgeon. – March 15, 2021.