US Orders Malaysian Medical Glove-Maker’s Products Seized for ‘Forced Labor’

Shailaja Neelakantan
US Orders Malaysian Medical Glove-Maker’s Products Seized for ‘Forced Labor’ An employee works at a production line in Top Glove’s factory in Shah Alam, Malaysia, Aug. 26, 2020.

The United States on Monday ordered the seizure at its ports of all disposable gloves manufactured by the world’s largest maker of these medical items, saying it had even more evidence than before that the Malaysian company used forced labor in its production line.

The ban on the products made by the company Top Glove won’t have a significant impact on total U.S. imports of disposable gloves that are critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Customs and Border Protection agency said.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced today that it has directed personnel at all U.S. ports of entry to begin seizing disposable gloves produced in Malaysia by Top Glove Corporation Bhd.,” the U.S. agency said in a statement.

CBP’s findings communicate that it “has sufficient information to believe that Top Glove uses forced labor in the production of disposable gloves,” the agency said.

CBP said it took the decision after a long investigation following its initial ban on Top Gloves’ products last July that was based “on reasonable but not conclusive information that multiple forced labor indicators exist in Top Glove’s production process.”

Officials with the agency said back then that they had evidence of forced labor, including debt bondage, excessive overtime, retention of identification documents and abusive working and living conditions.

A Top Glove spokesperson told BenarNews the company would issue a statement on the CBP’s decision on Tuesday.

On March 9, the company had said that an independent consultant had “confirmed that there is no element of systemic forced labor in Top Glove.”

Still, on March 16, the Malaysian government charged Top Glove with failing to provide worker accommodations that meet minimum standards. The company pleaded not guilty to the 10 charges against it, but if convicted it could be fined up to RM 50,000 (U.S. $12,000) per charge.

In response, the Malaysian company issued a statement saying “it remains highly committed to ensuring high quality welfare, health, working conditions, and living accommodation for its workforce.”

“The company has also set out current and midterm plans to continuously improve the standard of the various types of accommodation it provides to its workers,” Top Glove said.

The Malaysian government’s charges stemmed from numerous investigations into allegations of poor conditions at dormitories of six factories owned by Top Glove, after more than 3,400 workers tested positive for COVID-19 in its plants in the state of Selangor.

US imports of disposable gloves

CBP said that the seizure of all of Top Glove’s Products would not impact COVID-19 prevention efforts in the United States.

“CBP has taken steps to ensure that this targeted enforcement action against Top Glove will not have a significant impact on total U.S. imports of disposable gloves,” John Leonard, CBP’s acting executive assistant commissioner for trade, said in the statement.

“We continue to work with our interagency partners to ensure that the personal protective equipment, medical devices and pharmaceuticals needed for the COVID-19 response are cleared for entry as expeditiously as possible while verifying that those goods are authorized and safe for use.”

With almost 44,000 new coronavirus infections on Monday, the U.S. has recorded more than 30 million cases and over half a million virus-related deaths since the pandemic began, according to experts at the Johns Hopkins University.

Last July, amid the raging pandemic, Washington had blocked imports of Top Glove’s rubber gloves, citing “reasonable evidence” of forced labor.

The latest CBP findings reinforce the initial findings about forced labor at the Malaysian company, the agency said on Monday.

“The finding expands upon a Withhold Release Order (WRO) that CBP issued in July 2020. …. That WRO was based on reasonable but not conclusive information that multiple forced labor indicators exist in Top Glove’s production process, including debt bondage, excessive overtime, abusive working and living conditions, and retention of identity documents."

Last July, CBP had said that goods produced by forced labor present significant risks for consumers, and corporate, government and military supply chains.

The risks, the U.S. agency had said, include health and safety issues and intellectual property rights violations that might have national security implications.

At the time, Top Glove officials had responded by saying that Washington’s order was linked to migrant workers being forced to pay fees to recruiters without the company’s knowledge. The officials said the practice ended in January 2019 when it began paying those fees.



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