Top Glove face probe in UK, Australia over labour abuse

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 10 – From Australia to the United Kingdom, the Top Glove brand has been tarnished following the Reuters report last week on the alleged horrific labour abuse practiced at its Malaysian factories.

Reports by The Guardian in the UK and ABC News in Australia, as well as the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post followed up the Reuters investigative report by highlighting that Top Glove supplies its products to UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and also to an Australian-based public listed company, Ansell.

The buyers of these products are under obligation by the law in their respective countries to ensure that their suppliers meet international standards when it comes to labour practices.

It was reported that the alleged conditions at Top Glove would meet several of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) criteria for modern slavery and forced labour, including withheld identity documents, debt bondage and excessive overtime.

The Guardian quoted an NHS Supply Chain spokesperson as saying that they will “take immediate steps with our suppliers to investigate the labour standards issues that you have identified and take action to responsibly address verified issues as appropriate.”

“NHS Supply Chain takes all allegations of labour abuses in its supply chain very seriously, and we have range of contractual arrangements and initiatives in place to try and prevent such situations arising.”

Australia against modern slavery in supply chains

ABC News, especially, had highlighted how the Australian government had only two weeks ago, on November 29, passed historic legislation to stamp out modern slavery in local companies’ supply chains.

“Yet, at the same time, a Nepalese worker in Malaysia was close to hitting his 30th day working without a rostered day off.

“He is among more than 11,000 migrant workers — mostly from Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and India — employed by the world’s biggest rubber glove manufacturer, Malaysian-listed Top Glove,” ABC News said in its report.

Work at Top Glove factory “mental torture”, reports ABC News

A Nepalese worker in Top Glove whom ABC News spoke to also said he has been promised fair working conditions before coming to Malaysia, only to find out he was wrong.

“It’s like a prison here. They make their own rules, it’s not ILO rules,” he was quoted to have said through an interpreter.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reported it had spoken to 16 Top Glove workers.

All the workers – eight from Nepal and eight from Bangladesh – had told the UK daily that working in there was akin to “mental torture”, with them having to work seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day, and with only one day off a month.

Ironically, all their company shirts carried the Top Glove logo with the slogan “Be honest and no cheating”.

Working 120 hours overtime a month against the law

Last Thursday, Reuters published a report revealing that Top Glove, which is also the world’s largest producer of rubber gloves, must 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.

Documents revealed to Reuters, showed that these migrant workers 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.

In response, an NGO that advocates migrant worker rights, Right to Redress Coalition (R2R) called for an urgent investigation by the government and also for Top Glove to commit to a programme of joint investigations on working conditions, core labour standards and occupational health and safety.

“The Reuters report into migrant worker abuse 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.

Huge 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?”

Top Glove, Top Honesty, Top Integrity, Top Transparency

The company’s 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 the company 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.

Neither Top Glove nor Lim have responded to these issues raised by NMT, even as the abuse of migrant workers issue has now come to light to put further pressure on the company.

This is evident with the share price of Top Glove dropping 5% at the start of trading this morning.

New Pakatan Harapan government closing an eye?

Will the new Malaysian government look into this company, or will they keep closing their eyes?

As of Dec 5, Employees Provident Fund (EPF) hold nearly 150 million shares in the company, where else the civil service retirement fund Kumpulan Wang Persaraan (KWAP) hold close to 130 million shares as at Dec 7, making a combined value of about RM1.6 billion worth of investments at yesterday’s closing price of RM5.90 per share.

–  NMT