The friends and foes of the glove sector: An editor’s confession

“COUNT Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)” – a popular song written by Irving Berlin and used in the 1954 film White Christmas – should resonate with investors who daringly took their chances on the stock market and raked in bountiful returns.

As Christmas in round the corner, hence a perfect occasion to reflect on the blessings of the past year – especially one which is so full of turbulence – investors in general should feel blessed that stock markets are being kept afloat due to its forward-looking nature.

This is despite the adverse market reality of having to cope with both a pandemic-stricken economy with an unabated daily spike in the number of reported COVID-19 cases.

For glove stock faithfuls, it may sound an irony but the current health crisis has by far been a blessing for the industry especially when many businesses related to the travel, airline, cruise, casino and resort/hotel found themselves badly bruised with prospect of recovery still uncertain.

However, I find a recent commentary by tradeview – who blogs in the I3 Investor portal – deceitful as he harbours the opinion that (at least to the writer’s interpretation) there is a concerted effort by certain quarters to portray the glove sector in a bad light.

“I have, however, a friendly advice to fellow readers who are either in the investment banking research fraternity, media or authorities/politicians, (that) in everything we do in life, be fair, reasonable and objective.

“Do not make judgments, comments or opinions with a coloured lens. The glove sector of Malaysia is one which should be proud of.

“I know these days, any article or news on glove sector attracts huge number of views. I know it because I can see the statistics in my blog and channel.

“Do not for the sake of attention and populist agenda destroy an entire sector that was organically grown through entrepreneurial spirit, hard work and grit. This sector is a golden goose of our country. We must preserve, protect and help improve it.”

While this writer cannot vouch for the research, investment banking or political fraternity, he is in a position to speak on behalf of the media industry.

At the very outset, there is a need to point out that one of the many roles of the media since time immemorial is to ensure check and balance in the society. Whatever criticism levelled is done without fear or favour so long as the argument is presented in a constructive manner.

Fair judgment

The media has never been short of praises for the glove industry. Even at the height of the industry’s glory – when the prices of glove stocks climbed to dizzying heights, thus sparking concerns of price sustainability – the media fraternity has continued to glorify the industry.

But alas, as the adage goes, there is a price for everything in life. The media suddenly found itself cornered by revelation of the glove industry’s own misdeeds. It can no longer defend the industry when a spike in the number of COVID-19 infections in the country is rightly linked to the woeful housing condition of the industry’s labour-intensive workforce.

The issue is then further compounded by allegation of mistreatment and neglect vis-à-vis video exposé of cramped or unsanitary living conditions of the foreign employees.

In all fairness, the media harbours no mal intention as to run down the glove industry. Acting as the eyes and ears of the society, the media simply leverages the notion that the pen is mightier than the sword to get glove makers to both buck up and clean up their act.

“If this incident happens today, this termination will not happen because we have engaged consultants and they have guided us on what is the right thing to do,” Top Glove Corp Bhd managing director Lee Kim Meow told the BFM98.9 business radio station in an interview.

He was referring to the fact that whistleblowers will no longer face termination with three helplines for worker complaints having been established by the world’s largest glove maker.

To-recap, Reuters reported last week that 27-year-old Nepali worker Yubaraj Khadka was fired after raising concerns about the lack of social distancing at the factories.

Khadka took two photos in May of fellow employees crowding into a Top Glove factory which he shared with a worker rights activist. The foreign staff, according to Lee, did not give the company feedback on the working conditions but Top Glove has since improved its processes.

Top Glove was linked to the Teratai cluster – the country’s biggest COVID-19 cluster – after more than 5,000 workers were infected, with counterparts Hartalega Holdings Bhd and Kossan Rubber Industries Bhd following suit.

With the gross imbalance between superb profitability and poor social responsibility – especially when the ESG (environment, social and governance) gauge becoming increasingly accepted as an investment norm – surely glove makers need to find the equilibrium mark.

Certainly, the media – as the fighter of justice – cannot turn a blind eye to the various shortcomings that were rampant in the glove industry especially with the evidence stacked before its eyes.

Ironically, the media is both a friend and foe of the glove industry – depending on how one expects the media to behave. – Dec 24, 2020

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