Malaysia vows action against world's top glovemaker over migrants' illegal overtime

by Beh Lih Yi | @BehLihYi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 10 December 2018 17:45 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A worker inspects a glove at the factory of Top Glove in Kelang, outside Kuala Lumpur September 25, 2009. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

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Thomson Reuters Foundation revealed on Thursday that migrant workers at the Malaysian company often work long hours to help clear debts to recruitment agents back home

By Beh Lih Yi, Kieran Guilbert and Amber Milne

KLANG, Malaysia/LONDON, Dec 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Malaysia said on Monday it would take action against Top Glove Corp. Bhd, the world's top medical glovemaker, which admitted breaching labour laws after a Thomson Reuters Foundation expose found some migrants working illegal overtime.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation revealed that migrant workers at the Malaysian company often worked long hours to help clear debts to recruitment agents back home who found them jobs - and in some cases exceed the legal overtime limit. 

The expose has prompted investigations by the British government, after finding some Top Glove supplies were used in UK hospitals, and by Australian rubber giant Ansell. It was also raised as a concern by a European parliamentarian.

Top Glove's share price fell about 5.9 percent on Monday to 5.55 Malaysian ringgit ($1.33).

Speaking at a press conference in Malaysia, Top Glove's Executive Chairman and Founder Lim Wee Chai said "a small number" of workers had done excessive overtime and the company would "continue to improve" its labour standards.

"We do our part, we do it correctly, we have no pressure, we still can sleep very well tonight," he told reporters at a Top Glove factory in Klang, an industrial area outside Kuala Lumpur.

"We will continue to do good, if there is any feedback, anything no good, we will continue to improve."
Lim denied workers were forced to do overtime.

Top Glove earlier said it introduced changes this year to ensure adequate rest for workers, with about 11,000 coming from Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and India to work for Top Glove in Malaysia, the world's glove manufacturing capital.

"They got options, you cannot force them. Some workers said they don't want to do overtime, that's ok. But most of them come here to make a living, so they want overtime," said Lim.

Workers at Top Glove factories often work a 12-hour shift and clock 90 to 120 hours of overtime a month, according to documents seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Under Malaysian laws, workers should be given one rest day each week and work no more than 104 hours of overtime a month.

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Workers carry out tests on gloves at a Top Glove factory in Meru outside Kuala Lumpur June 25, 2009. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

GLOVES TO BRITISH HOSPITALS

Top Glove, which produces one in every four pairs of rubber gloves used globally, said last week it would cut ties with unethical recruitment agents, and that action had been taken over the issue of excessive overtime.

Malaysia's Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran said action will be taken against Top Glove for breaching labour laws on overtime hours.

"(The company) themselves admitted (to this) so we will take the necessary action," Kulasegaran told reporters, after visiting one of Top Glove's 35 Malaysian factories on Monday.

"We will strictly enforce (the labour law) and we will prevent them in bringing in foreign workers if they breach this regulation," he said, adding that an investigation was ongoing.

Malaysia's labour ministry said Top Glove could face a fine of up to 10,000 Malaysian ringgit ($2,400) if found guilty of breaching labour laws on excessive overtime.

The matter was raised by one European parliamentarian as an example of a human rights violation on a day marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"We urgently need corporate responsibility and public procurement free of human rights violations; allegations against Top Glove one more alarming example," tweeted Finnish politician and Vice-President of the European Parliament Heidi Hautala.

Since Malaysia's new government came to power in May, ousting a corruption-mired coalition, officials have vowed to improve conditions for migrant workers, with about two million registered migrant workers in the country.

Britain's health ministry said it would investigate standards at Top Glove - which makes rubber gloves sold to Britain's National Health Service (NHS) - after being presented with the Thomson Reuters Foundation's findings. 

The Thomson Reuters Foundation discovered that at least one Top Glove product is supplied to the NHS via a British firm.

Polyco Healthline confirmed one of their 'Handsafe' products which is sold to hospitals via the NHS Supply Chain's online catalogue comes from a Top Glove factory. 

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Polyco but labour experts said the finding raises doubts about Britain's capacity to ensure its medical supply chain is free of labour abuses and unethical practices.

Lim said Top Glove had not received any inquiries or complaint from the British authorities.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday asked another 17 companies listed on the NHS Supply Chain's online catalogue as glove suppliers whether they sourced their goods from Top Glove.

Fourteen of them said they did not.

Ansell said it buys six base gloves from Top Glove and none were supplied to the NHS but it was investigating.

"We have initiated further inquiries on the details of claims made to ... media outlets in recent days," an Ansell spokesman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

U.S.-based medical products company Medline said the company sources a handful of items from Top Glove for markets outside of Europe, but it had began to end its links several months ago after internal audits yielded "findings which concerned us."

"We concluded that termination was the most prudent course of action," said Fadzai Munyaradzi, Medline's corporate social responsibility manager for Europe.

Britain-based medical goods supplier Bunzl Healthcare said it sourced some goods from Top Glove, but did not supply to NHS Supply Chain. 

Kulasegaran, the Malaysian human resources minister, denied a media report that linked Top Glove to unlawful wage deductions and forced labour saying checks found the deductions - including for food and workers' insurance - were in line with the law.

The labour ministry also said workers had access to lockers in which their passports were kept, denying confiscations.

(Writing by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith and Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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