KUALA LUMPUR (July 21): Companies in Australia’s healthcare sector have been urged to examine their supply chain — which observers have slammed for having the “worst” transparency — for incidences of slavery and other human rights abuses, after shipments of gloves from Top Glove Corp Bhd were halted in the US on allegations of forced labour.
In an article by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Ethical Partners Fund Management spokesperson Roby Parkin said while it is vital to ensure medical workers have access to enough personal protective equipment (PPE), Australia’s healthcare sector often “lacked appropriate concern for the wellbeing of workers responsible for manufacturing the goods overseas”.
"We have also done a lot of research on the attention to modern slavery across the ASX as a whole, and surprisingly, as a sector, the health sector is amongst the worst for disclosure and transparency.
Meanwhile, Amy Sinclair, regional representative in Australia for the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, was quoted as saying: "This really should be a very live issue for Australian companies who are importing from Malaysia, where we know that there are issues and we know there is a history of poor practices."
"Companies should be ensuring that rigorous checks are still being taken, that they are checking what their suppliers are doing, and that they are using their leverage to encourage their suppliers to prioritise health and safety at this time,” she added.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Australian Border Force told the ABC that the Australian government is concerned by allegations of modern slavery in relation to the manufacture of PPE, including rubber gloves.
It said the government had enacted the Modern Slavery Act 2018 to address this issue, where entities based or operating in Australia which have an annual consolidated revenue of over AS$100 million are required to report on their actions to assess and address possible modern slavery risks in their supply chains, which could also pertain to the purchase of PPE.
Sinclair said while it was weak because it lacked financial penalties, it was still a major first step and obligates companies to review their supply chains and the risks to workers.
To recap, the US Customs and Border Protection imposed a detention order on imports from two of Top Glove’s subsidiaries, namely Top Glove Sdn Bhd and TG Medical Sdn Bhd, last week.
In a filing with Bursa Malaysia, the group said it is reaching out to the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), through the glove producer's office in the US, besides the company's customers and consultants, to understand the issue better and work towards a speedy resolution to the matter within an estimated two weeks.
"There is a possibility this may be related to foreign labour issues, which we have already resolved, save for one more issue with regards to retrospective payment of recruitment fees by our workers to agents prior to January 2019, without our knowledge. However, Top Glove has already been bearing all recruitment fees since January 2019, when our zero recruitment fee policy was implemented,” Top Glove said.
Today, the Ministry of Human Resources confirmed that the headquarters of Top Glove Corp Bhd in Meru, Klang was raided by enforcement officials on Monday, after it had breached Movement Control Order rules and provided cramped quarters for migrant workers.
However, the ministry said no offences involving elements of forced labour were found.
"This caused Top Glove to be compounded by the Ministry of Health and was issued a compliance notice by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government," the ministry said.
The raid, it said, was carried out by task forces for the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007 and the Recovery Movement Control Order.