Top Glove worker abuse allegations require urgent response

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 8 –  Following a Reuters report on the horrific labour practices by Top Glove in Malaysia, an NGO supporting the rights of migrant workers has called for the government to take immediate action.

According to Right to Redress Coalition (R2R), in the investigative report by Reuters published on Thursday, it was revealed that Top Glove, which is also the world’s largest producer of rubber gloves, must also be held responsible for the abuse of migrant workers in various ways, including excessive and in some cases illegal overtime work, and crippling recruitment debt to secure a job.

“The investigation notes that workers’ do not exercise real control over their passports, thereby affecting their freedom of movement.

“Allegations of migrant worker exploitation against Top Glove are not altogether new. In 2014 complaints were made to the Labour Department that workers at Top Glove’s Meru plant who had complained about working conditions were detained in an onsite ‘lock-up’ for five days,” R2R spokesman Adrian Pereira said in a statement.

He added that such allegations require an urgent response that involves government, civil society, and most of all, the active participation of workers.

“We also call on Top Glove to commit to a programme of joint investigations on working conditions, core labour standards and occupational health and safety with the participation of representatives the R2R Coalition,” Pereira said.

Migrant workers tell their story

It was reported that in the various Top Glove factories across the country, workers told Reuters that they often worked long hours to earn overtime pay, and in some cases exceed the limit of overtime hours stipulated under local labour laws.

Workers interviewed said they hoped to quickly repay loans of at least RM5,000 they took out to pay recruitment agents in their home countries. They said others were charged up to RM20,000.

On the working condition at Top Glove, the migrant workers told Reuters that they were paid at least RM1,000 a month, and given access to their passports under a locker system that had been advocated by local rights groups.

Documents revealed to Reuters, showed that they had to work between 90 and 120 hours of overtime a month. This was in order to settle the recruitment debt to agencies, who are supplying these workers to Top Glove.

Under Malaysian laws, workers should be given a rest day each week and work not more than 104 hours of overtime a month.

“If I don’t work these extra hours, how could I possibly earn enough to pay back the recruitment agent?” a Nepali worker told Reuters.

However, in an immediate response, Top Glove told the newswire that it was not aware of its labour suppliers charging exorbitant fees to migrant workers but vowed to investigate and severe ties with unethical recruitment agents.

“We will want to stop dealing with such suppliers if we know they are very unscrupulous. It’s our duty to do that, we will never condone it,” the company’s managing director Lee Kim Meow was quoted as saying.

Top Glove’s success on the back of labour abuse?

R2R was critical of Top Glove’s success and continued growth being driven by such labour abuse questioning if it would have been possible otherwise.

“One must wonder the extent to which this system has propelled Top Glove’s success. In July 2018 The Star reported that Top Glove’s sales volume had rose a record 37%, and net profit had risen 51.3%. Today, Top Glove’s workers produce almost one in four rubber gloves used globally.

“Would this have been possible without a low-wage long-hour system of labour management?

“In the coming weeks we expect Top Glove to embark on a public relations offensive to downplay the severity of these allegations to satisfy their international buyers. In our estimation this misses the point.

“A company is nothing without its workers, and until its 14,000+ workers can freely demonstrate that they are happy with the pace of improvements then buyers should remain wary,” Pereira said.

He added that the conditions faced by these migrant workers at Top Glove factories are widespread, and not just within the rubber glove industry.

“It’s the same in many migrant-dominated industries, including domestic work, security, hospitality, construction, wood and furniture and others.”

Top Glove, Top Honesty, Top Integrity, Top Transparency

Top Glove business mantra about being top in honesty, integrity and transparency may end up as a farce if these matters are not investigated and addressed immediately.

NMT recently wrote about Top Glove’s Chairman Tan Sri Lim Wee Chai being a strong supporter of world number one kleptocrat, Malaysia’s own MO1. Lim also have direct conflict of interest being a board member of Employees Provident Fund (EPF), Malaysia’s retirement fund and institutional investor that invest heavily in Top Glove.

No public statements have been made on these issues either from Top Glove or Lim.