Malaysian rubber gloves listed as produced by “forced labour”

The US Department of Labour (DOL) has added rubber gloves manufactured by Malaysia to a list of goods produced by forced labour this year. The DOL reported that adult migrant labourers in Malaysia were forced to produce rubber gloves, sometimes working in more than 100 rubber glove factories throughout the country.

The DOL further said that an estimated 42,500 migrant workers, predominantly from Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, and Nepal, were subject to high recruitment fees to secure employment in the industry. The workers were often kept in debt bondage and forced to work longer hours than allowed under Malaysian law, and in factories where temperatures could reach dangerous levels.

However, the DOL report was said to be “retrospective” by the President of the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (MARGMA), Supramaniam Shanmugam.

According to Shanmugam, the rubber glove industry abided by Malaysian laws and regulations, as well as by standards imposed by importing countries.He said several major glove manufacturers, including top maker Top Glove Corp. Bhd. had since June announced commitments of more than RM250 million (US$60.2 million) to remediate recruitment fees foreign workers paid to agents in their home countries that their Malaysian employers were unaware of.

“MARGMA members are practicing immediate repatriation if any foreign worker poses debt-bondage risk or is dishonest in claiming no debt-bondage during their entrance interviews,” he said, adding that services of the recruitment agent responsible will be terminated in tandem.

For Malaysia, the DOL had already listed electronics and garments as goods produced by forced labour, and palm oil as produced by child labour and forced labour. Other issues include a threat of penalties such as withholding of wages and identification documents, and restricted movement.