Malaysia Launches Probes into Top Glove’s Housing for Workers

Ray Sherman
Kuala Lumpur
2020-12-01
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Malaysia Launches Probes into Top Glove’s Housing for Workers Army personnel set up barbed wire fencing around Top Glove’s dormitory buildings in Klang, Malaysia, Nov.17, 2020.
[S.Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Malaysian authorities said Tuesday they had opened numerous investigations into allegations of poor conditions at dormitories of six factories owned by Top Glove, the world’s largest medical glove maker, after more than 3,400 workers tested positive for COVID-19 in its Selangor plants.

After raids at Top Glove facilities in five other states last week, the Ministry of Human Resources said it determined the dorms had failed to meet minimum standards for worker housing and amenities.

“The simultaneous raids on Nov. 26 were conducted following the surge of coronavirus cases among Top Glove workers in its factory in the city of Klang in Selangor state on Nov. 7,” the ministry said in a statement, referring to one of the earliest group of infections at a Top Glove plant.

“Following that, 19 investigation papers have been opened against six factories under Top Glove Group Corporation Bhd.”

The investigation comes a little more than four months after the United States blocked imports of rubber gloves made by Top Glove, citing “reasonable evidence” of forced labor at its factories.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, Malaysia’s labor department said the U.S. might demote Malaysia in a key annual report on human trafficking, if the allegations against Top Glove proved true.

“We are already on the Tier 2 Watch List of the U.S. State Department’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons report, and we are cautious against factors that could drag us further down the list,” said Asri Ab Rahman, the Department of Labor’s director general.

In 2018, the country was dropped a notch from Tier 2, for, among other things, pervasive “corruption related to processes for foreign nationals to work in Malaysia.” It remained there in 2019.

Last week, when health authorities suspended operations at 28 Top Glove factories in Klang, in Selangor state, Malaysia’s health director-general said the vast majority of infected workers there were foreigners.

On Tuesday, Malaysia reported 1,472 new coronavirus infections, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 67,169, according to health-ministry data.

‘Cramped, uncomfortable, and poorly ventilated accommodation’

Top Glove’s housing facilities ae being investigated in the states of Perak, Kedah, Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan and Johor as well.

“Thorough investigations on the workers’ housing facilities and dormitories found that the employer had failed to abide by the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 (Act 446),” the ministry’s statement said.

Amendments to the act mandate that employers provide workers with a minimum living space which meets safety and hygiene standards. The amendments went into force on Sept.1.

“The biggest offense was the company’s failure to acquire an accommodation certificate from the director-general of the Labor Department, under Section 24D of Act 446,” the statement said.

“The other offenses include providing cramped, uncomfortable and poorly ventilated accommodation facilities to its workers. In fact, the buildings used to house the workers were also not in compliance with local councils’ requirements.”

The ministry said it would forward its investigation reports to the deputy public prosecutor.

This office would then decide whether to file charges against Top Glove, Asri Ab Rahman said, when asked about when, or whether, the company would be taken to court.

Only 30 percent of 24,000 companies nationwide checked by the labor department comply with Act 446, he said.

Violations carry a steep fine.

“If found guilty, the employer can be fined up to 50,000 ringgit (U.S. $12,250) on each count,” the ministry said.

Manufacturer responds

On Tuesday, Top Glove officials said they would cooperate with the authorities.

“Top Glove wishes to clarify that efforts to source for more accommodation and to improve existing worker accommodations are ongoing, in view of the large number of workers we employ,” the company said in a statement.

The company employs 21,000 workers across 47 factories, 41 of which are in Malaysia.

“We expect to complete the exercise of improving workers’ accommodation around Dec. 31, 2020. This is in line with the government’s educational approach on employers in various sectors until the end of this year (2020), so that they can comply with Act 446.”

Top Glove said it had spent about 20 million ringgit ($4.9 million) over the past two months to purchase 100 apartments for workers that adhere to the government’s requirements.

“This is in addition to having previously invested in 100 double-story houses and hostels with full facilities including in-house canteen, automated teller machines, barbershops and minimarts, worth an estimated 50 million ringgit ($12.2 million) in total,” the company said.

Malaysian companies produce 65 percent of the world’s rubber gloves. Top Glove supplies a little over a quarter of the world’s latex gloves, or 90 billion annually.

The company last week said the price of protective medical gloves could increase because of a production shortfall following the shutdown of 28 – or more than half – of its plants.

Nisha David in Kuala Lumpur also contributed to the report.

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