Frankly Speaking: Hobbled by labour issues

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on July 20, 2020 - July 26, 2020.
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Last Thursday, Top Glove Corp Bhd confirmed that the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had placed a detention order on disposable gloves manufactured by two of the rubber glove manufacturer’s subsidiaries, namely Top Glove Sdn Bhd and TG Medical Sdn Bhd.

The reason for the detention was possibly related to its foreign labour issues, the glove maker said.

Top Glove said it is reaching out to CBP to understand the issue better and work towards a resolution within two weeks.

In a Bernama report last week, Top Glove chairman and founder Tan Sri Lim Wee Chai had expressed hope that the government would allow the recruitment of foreign workers to resume. The company is facing a labour shortage as production is ramped up to meet the rising demand for gloves.

This is not the first time the glove maker has been mired in foreign labour issues and accused of exploiting its workers. Neither is it the only case. WRP Asia Pacific Sdn Bhd also had its gloves held by US Customs for producing them under “forced labour conditions”. The ban was lifted in March.

Due to demand outstripping supply, the average prices of medical gloves have risen, leading to bigger margins and profits for glove makers. This is reflected in the rise in the share prices of glove makers listed on Bursa Malaysia.

With the higher profits they are making, perhaps it is time for glove makers to ramp up automation and wean themselves from their addiction to cheap labour. While it is true that dependence on manual labour cannot be replaced entirely in certain sectors, this could be an opportune time for glove makers to automate more of their operations.

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