Malaysian glove makers facing charges of housing workers in conditions of modern slavery

The Malaysian government has announced it is bringing charges against one of the country’s largest rubber glove producers after labor inspectors found the company’s migrant workers living in squalid and overcrowded conditions.

As demand for personal protective equipment has surged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Malaysian rubber glove producers—which produce nearly two out of three pairs worldwide—have come under increasing scrutiny for the working and living conditions of their migrant workers.

In December, the government announced plans to bring charges against the company Top Glove after their cramped accommodation for migrant workers led to what was then the country’s largest cluster of coronavirus infections.

The charges announced this week take aim at Brightway Holdings and two subsidiaries, Biopro and La Glove—which, between them, own five factories and employ some 2,900 workers—after the government raided their facilities in the final days of 2020.

The Malaysian Human Resources Minister, Saravanan Murugan, publicly condemned the companies, saying “I don’t know how anyone could live like this. This looks like modern slavery.”

A Bangladeshi worker spoke of sharing one bathroom with 200 other men and sharing a bunk bed with three other men, making social distancing impossible.

VOA reports:

“They always say to socially distance. But there are so many people living and working together in one place, so it’s hard to do… I don’t think the company has taken the necessary steps to protect us from COVID. They give us only soap to wash our hands.”

While the living conditions migrant workers in Malaysia face are shocking, labor rights advocates say companies like Brightway and Top Glove are not alone in housing their workers in inadequate facilities.

Adrian Pereira, executive director of the North South Initiative, a local nongovernment group and a member of the Migrant Workers Right to Redress Coalition, told VOA:

“I suspect it’s in almost every sector of migrant labor. I think if not for the international auditors and ethical trade organizations, I think almost all sectors involving migrant workers would be as horrible as this.”

Pereira went on to say that the Malaysian government needs to push for much stricter reforms of the industry, and that the issues facing migrant workers have become deep-rooted over the last 20 to 30 years.

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