Top Glove begins a new chapter but past “scars’ cannot be easily erased

ACCOUNTABILITY may pose a sore point for Top Glove Corp Bhd which has recently ‘passed with flying colours’ the litmus test as per the 11 International Labour Organization’s (ILO) indicators of forced labour.

This is given the history of recruitment fee payment at Top Glove (as in the case of other similar industry leaders) has been a sensitive and long standing issue, according to independent migrant worker rights specialist Andy Hall.

Hall has been a vocal critic of labour conditions at Top Glove in the past but has now adapted his work to take on a ‘critical friend’ role by constructively engaging the company to make further improvements after the company approached him for support and advice.

“My personal engagement with recruitment agents who have been long-time suppliers to Top Glove and other such companies indicates that there is an element of kickbacks/corruption that should have been resolved a long time ago,” he told FocusM.

“I haven’t come across anyone held accountable, blacklisted, reported to authorities for any of this.

“I think we cannot run away from this topic, too, as there have been millions of dollars in illicit payments and charges involved that companies and investors have now been forced to pay back to the workers.”

FocusM has sought Hall’s view with regard to Top Glove’s recent revelation that the world’s largest glove maker has resolved all 11 ILO indicators of forced labour as part of its move to improve its workers’ welfare.

“And the matter has been verified by an independent international UK consultant, Impactt Ltd (Impactt), in its report dated April 22,” Top Glove said in a statement on Monday (April 26).

Complex legacy

Asked to elaborate, Hall said his research suggested that Top Glove – like many other industry leaders – had in the past used Malaysian agencies which were not fully licensed to recruit in Malaysia and from overseas.

“Most of all, the role of some of Top Glove’s agencies who were managing recruitment across the region never ceased to shock me, how they have escaped accountability for their abuses for so long, until today,” he shared.

“Concerns have been raised that Top Glove hardly paid anything for recruitment in the past; in fact, some sources suggested that Top Glove personnel and/or its Malaysian agents were actually paid to take workers through a complex process of kickbacks and corruption.

“That’s a sad alleged situation and complex legacy that cannot be forgotten and ought to be thoroughly investigated, right?”

Hall further alleged that Top Glove’s Malaysian agent – as with many other agents in Malaysia in similar situations across the country and across various industries – would auction off the labour demand letter issued by the company to the highest bidder.

Andy Hall

“There needed to be an investigation as to where such money gained from these auctions went, and whether it could have even been used to cover the cost of having to pay the company’s internal staff,” Hall pointed out.

“This means a vicious chain where the recruitment agents who are willing to pay the most money would get the demand letters and later recoup the money from desperate and at risk workers in source countries, it’s a systematic, corrupt and sad practice across Malaysia’s recruitment industry creating high risks of forced labour on workers.”

New leaf, new beginning

But now that Top Glove has turned on a new leaf, Hall hopes that the glove maker will uphold high moral grounds, stringent anti-corruption standards and engage in much stronger due diligence.

“It is time to acknowledge positive momentum forward shown by Top Glove’s leadership to effectively seek to identify, remediate and prevent systemic forced labour indicators from being present in the company’s direct operations and supply chain,” he asserted.

Similarly, Hall stressed the need to begin evaluating critically the US Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) approach towards the company by questioning its ongoing reluctance to withdraw the forced labour trade-related finding at a time when other leading companies in Malaysia are doing far less than Top Glove yet they are still not similarly subject to CBP trade enforcement action.’

Hall also pledged to work closely with Top Glove to ensure migrant worker’s rights and worker welfare are continually prioritised within the company’s direct operations and its vast supply chain.

“Ensuring social dialogue, the payment of a living wage with generous incentives to its workers as well as protection of whistleblowers and enhanced workplace health and safety is essential for moving forward,” he envisages.

“I hope to also work with Top Glove to ensure the company is a leading figure promoting ESG (environment, social and governance criteria) in corporate activities in Malaysia, and to finally draw a line under modern slavery allegations by ensuring full and fair remediation for all that have been negatively impacted by Top Glove’s operations in the past.” – April 28, 2021

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