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Malaysia plans probe of Top Glove after US forced labor finding

Medical glove maker denies worker abuse but vows to improve operations

A Top Glove factory on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur: U.S. authorities say they will seize disposable gloves made by the company after finding evidence of forced labor in their production.   © AP

KUALA LUMPUR -- The Malaysian government is vowing to conduct its own probe of Top Glove, the world's largest manufacturer of latex gloves, after U.S. authorities announced the seizure of disposable gloves made by the company after a finding of forced labor in their production.

Malaysian Trade and Industry Minister Azmin Ali said Tuesday that the government will study findings by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which has discovered evidence of debt bondage, excessive overtime, abusive working and living conditions and seizure of identity documents in Top Glove's manufacturing process.

"We need to look at the full report and conduct an investigation," Azmin told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, adding that company action could follow, depending on the results of the domestic inquiry.

The CBP said in a statement on Monday that it "has sufficient information to believe that Top Glove uses forced labor in the production of disposable gloves." It also said that personnel at all U.S. ports of entry have been directed to start seizing disposable gloves made by Top Glove in Malaysia.

The finding comes after a monthslong investigation "aimed at preventing goods made by modern slavery from entering U.S. commerce," said Troy Miller, senior official performing the duties of the CBP commissioner, said in the statement. "CBP will not tolerate foreign companies' exploitation of vulnerable workers to sell cheap, unethically made goods to American consumers."

In a notice posted in the U.S. Federal Register, the CBP said that some of the company's disposable gloves "have been mined, produced, or manufactured in Malaysia ... with the use of convict, forced or indentured labor, and are being, or are likely to be, imported into the United States."

Top Glove countered with a statement denying the U.S. findings and reiterated that it prioritizes protecting its workers, while also vowing to pursue improvements in its operations.

"Accordingly, the company continues to take extensive remedial actions to further improve our practices and enhance our internal control measures with regard to our labor management," the company said. "We are committed to be the best company that we can, ensuring high-quality welfare, health, safe working conditions and living accommodation for our workforce."

Company lawyers are currently communicating with CBP representatives to obtain "sufficient information to meaningfully address the issuance of the recent finding," it added.

Top Glove said it had earlier submitted a report dated March 16 prepared by independent international consultant Impactt to the CBP for review, as well as having taken all necessary measures required by the U.S. agency to ensure that all its concerns are addressed.

"Since July 2020, Top Glove has engaged Impactt to advise on measures for improving its policies and practices," the company said, adding that the consultant has cleared it of any systemic forced labor in line with International Labor Organization indicators.

Saravanan Murugan, Malaysia's human resources minister, also weighed in, saying the U.S. findings have affected Malaysia's international image.

"We will look at this matter very closely," Saravanan said at a news conference on Tuesday. "If Top Glove is not wrong, then they should not be penalized, but if they are, then we have to look at this matter very seriously."

Top Glove's sales and profits have surged thanks to high demand for medical supplies during the coronavirus pandemic. It said this month that it sees no signs of a slowdown despite the global rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

Top Glove's share price fell 5.4% on Tuesday to close at 4.78 ringgit. It continued declining on Wednesday morning, dropping 4.2% to 4.58 ringgit in early trading.

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