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NHS sources PPE from company accused of worker exploitation - top glove

Two years ago, The Guardian newspaper first reported that the NHS sources PPE from Top Glove, a Malaysian rubber glove manufacturer. It has been revealed that the NHS continues to source nitrile gloves from Top Glove despite the firm’s human rights record not having improved over time.

It has emerged that the NHS continues to source rubber gloves from Top Glove factories via NHS supply chain, the organisation that supplies 40% of NHS nitrile gloves and other PPE to hospitals and clinics across the UK.

Malaysia: The world's leading rubber manufacturer

Malaysia is the world’s leading rubber producer, and Top Glove is the top player in this industry. The company operates 40 factories across Malaysia, which are responsible for fully 20% of the world’s rubber glove production. With the industry being so concentrated in Malaysia, it is no exaggeration to say that countries around the world are now dependent on Malaysian manufacturers for sourcing the PPE they need.

Migrant workers trapped in 'slave-like' conditions

Top Glove’s Malaysian factories employ more than 11,000 employees, many of whom are economic migrants from poor countries including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal. Allegations have recently been made that migrant workers at Top Gloves factories were being paid as little as £1 per hour to work 12 hour shifts six or indeed seven days a week.
On top of already brutal working conditions, ABC News has reported that the company is pushing an initiative called ‘Heroes for COVID-19’, which has seen workers encouraged to spend up to four hours per day, making yet more rubber gloves on their days off. This has reportedly seen factory employees working up to 30 days in a row without time off.

Allegations of coercive control

It has been further alleged that migrant workers have been kept in these conditions because Top Glove has taken their passports, making it impossible for these employees to leave. The Guardian notes that it heard this allegation from numerous interviewees but saw no evidence of this practice.
Top Glove denies all allegations, pointing out that it has won awards for health and safety standards in its factories.

Protection for us - but not for the workers

One of the great ironies revealed by this report is that employees at Top Glove’s factories are expected to manufacture global PPE Supplies, yet they have not been provided with adequate personal protective equipment themselves. With workers labouring in crowded conditions without adequate PPE, we might consider what would happen to the global PPE supply chain if an outbreak happened in even one of Top Glove’s factories.

What can the health industry do?

Allegations of the mistreatment of workers raises the question of how we can ensure that the NHS sources PPE while ensuring that the industry’s most vulnerable workers are protected from exploitation. The NHS has previously argued that the safety of workers is an extremely important part of its supply chains, but this continued mismanagement certainly raises questions.
Workers laboring under such Victorian conditions may be helping to supply much needed PPE, but is the human cost worth it?

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