UK firms: Don’t deal with M’sian PPE suppliers accused of modern slavery

THE names of three Malaysian glove makers have popped up in a mainstream UK newspaper following a call by the opposition Labour Party for action to be taken against UK companies found to be doing business with overseas PPE (personal protective equipment) suppliers accused of “abhorrent” modern slavery practices.

Labour MP Bill Esterson who is also the shadow minister for international trade, has written to the attorney general seeking assurances “that the Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) will continue to prosecute all instances of modern slavery in the private sector”.

This follows a series of reports by The Independent which showed the UK Government has repeatedly sourced PPE from companies in Malaysia that face modern slavery allegations despite promises to crack down on suppliers accused of labour abuses.

It was also revealed that Whitehall had identified companies suspected of forced labour as long ago as November 2019 – with further concerns about Malaysian glove suppliers highlighted by a UK diplomat during the peak of the pandemic.

According to the newspaper, millions of items made by companies such as Brightway Holdings Sdn Bhd, Top Glove Corp Bhd and Supermax Corp Bhd have been provided to the National Health Service (NHS) throughout the health crisis as demand soared in hospitals due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

All three firms have said they are now complying with Malaysian labour regulations.

In his letter to Attorney-General Michael Ellis, Esterson wrote: “If the UK Government cannot even eradicate modern slavery from its own supply chains, how can we trust your department to properly prosecute companies trading in the UK who are engaging in these same abhorrent practices?”

He also urged Ellis to consult with the Cabinet Office which has been involved in the PPE procurement to ensure that all “existing and future PPE contracts comply with the highest standards of labour regulations”.

“I am sure that you will agree that the UK’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic must not be built on the backs of slave labour, and that the UK must remain committed to human rights throughout the whole supply chain,” he added.

The attorney general is the UK Government’s principal legal adviser and deals with questions of international law, human rights and devolution.

In late December, it was reported that Brightway Holdings and two of its subsidiaries in Selangor – Biopro (M) Sdn Bhd and LA Glove (M) Sdn Bhd – will be facing 30 charges in court for alleged offences under the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 (Act 446).

On March 16, Top Glove was charged in the Sessions Court with 10 counts of failing to provide workers’ accommodations certified by the Labour Department (JTK) last November. – March 24, 2021

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