US Bans Malaysian Company’s Rubber Gloves on Forced Labor Concerns

Noah Lee
Kuala Lumpur
2021-10-21
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US Bans Malaysian Company’s Rubber Gloves on Forced Labor Concerns A testing center staffer removes rubber gloves after collecting a COVID-19 test sample in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, Jan. 18, 2021.
[AFP]

The United States on Thursday blocked imports of rubber gloves by Malaysian glove maker Supermax after citing “ample evidence” of forced labor in the company’s manufacturing operations, according to a statement by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The manufacturing and palm-oil sectors in Malaysia rely heavily on migrant labor and have long battled allegations of exploitation of workers, analysts have said – the U.S. last year barred three firms in these areas citing forced labor, although the ban on one company was lifted this year.

“CBP issued a WRO [withhold release order] against Supermax Corp. Bhd and its subsidiaries based on information that reasonably indicates their use of forced labor in manufacturing operations,” it said in a statement about the block, which took effect Thursday.

“CBP identified 10 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) indicators of forced labor during its investigation.”

ILO standards include restriction of movement, physical and sexual violence, intimidation, retention of documents, withholding of wages, abusive work and living conditions and excessive overtime.

“Until Supermax and its subsidiaries can prove their manufacturing processes are free of forced labor, their goods are not welcome here,” AnnMarie R. Highsmith, CBP Office of Trade executive assistant commissioner said in the statement.

Supermax, a U.S. $512 million (sales) company, issued a statement to the Malaysian stock exchange on Thursday, saying it began efforts in 2019 to meet the 11 ILO standards on migrant workers.

According to its 2020 annual report, the company places “great emphasis on employee health and safety.”

An international migrant worker rights specialist challenged Supermax’s claims about its facilities.

“Regular, irregular, directly hired and outsourced foreign workers at Supermax have reported to me and my team appalling conditions of systemic forced labor at the company’s various workplaces for several years,” Andy Hall said in a Facebook statement.

‘Embarrassing’

Rights activists blamed the Malaysian government for labor issues.

Hall called on the international community to take action to ensure the Malaysian government and private companies take the issue of systemic forced labor seriously.

“Malaysia’s management of migrant workers, a crucial part of its economy and labor intensive export production, continues to be undeveloped, with systemic corruption and little to no respect for the rule of law,” Hall said.

Malaysia leads the world in rubber-glove manufacturing and accounts for about 65 percent of the world’s production, according to a 2020 statement by the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association.

The Malaysian government, therefore, needs to align its employment laws and regulations with international standards, said migrant rights activist Adrian Pereira.

“While the action by the Americans are welcomed, it is embarrassing that Malaysia can’t resolve this 30-year-old problem. Even worse we are now a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council,” Pereira, from the North South Initiative, told BenarNews.

He was referring to Malaysia having been recently voted into the United Nations body that is responsible for promoting human rights globally.

A former Malaysian cabinet minister also criticized the government over the U.S. sanction.

“I raised this matter in April, but the government failed to respond to me,” said M. Kulasegaran who served as the Human Resources minister during and earlier administration.

Supermax is not the first Malaysian manufacturer to face U.S. sanctions over working conditions.

In July 2020, U.S. Customs announced it was blocking products made by Top Glove, the world’s largest glove maker, because of evidence it used forced labor.

The ban was lifted last month after Top Glove showed improvements in response to the U.S. block.

Hadi Azmi and Nisha David in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.

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