The UK and Malaysian government have launched separate investigations after the Guardian reported allegations that factories supplying rubber gloves to the NHS were exploiting migrant workers in conditions of forced labour.
A Guardian investigation reported that two giants in rubber glove production, Top Glove and WRP, were allegedly subjecting migrant workers from Nepal and Bangladesh to excessive overtime of up to 160 hours a week, “unsafe” factory conditions, confiscated passports, high recruitment fees that kept them in debt bondage and, in the case of WRP, salaries withheld for months.
Both Top Glove and WRP were found to be producing medical gloves for brands sold by NHS Supply Chain, the organisation which supplies about 40% of NHS products.
In a statement, the Department of Health said: “In line with the government’s policy and leadership on modern slavery, we take any allegations of this kind incredibly seriously and are working with NHS Supply Chain to ensure that these issues are investigated as a matter of urgency.”
The British high ommissioner to Malaysia, Vicky Treadwell, is also planning to visit to Top Glove’s headquarters this month.
NHS Supply Chain has confirmed to the Guardian that it is investigating the allegations. The company has a code of conduct to prevent any forced labour or modern slavery conditions in its supply chain.
At a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, the Malaysian minister of human resources, M Kulasegaran, confirmed investigations into Top Glove, which is one of the biggest employers in Malaysia, had already begun and that authorities would be looking at conditions at other firms.
The Guardian interviewed 16 workers from Top Glove who alleged they had to work at least 12 hours a day, seven days a week, with only one day off a month. Payslips seen by the Guardian seemed to indicate they were working overtime between 120 and 160 hours, exceeding the legal limit of 104 hours allowed by Malaysian law. Top Glove said it complied with “local labour law requirements”, although they admitted that excessive overtime was their “main concern”. However, they denied that the company confiscated passports, stating that they kept them in accessible lockers for “safekeeping”.