A woman putting on medical gloves. © 123RF
A woman putting on medical gloves. © 123RF

BMA highlights labour abuse in latex glove supply chain

4 April 2016

The BMA has called on the NHS to ensure the rights of workers making medical gloves in Asia are protected after highlighting serious abuse of these workers in countries including Malaysia and Thailand.

The new report In Good Hands has demanded providers of NHS equipment protect workers in their supply chain, following claims of soaring glove factory temperatures, workers’ passports confiscated, factory fires and cockroach infestations.

Cases of seven day working weeks, unpaid overtime, humiliation and detainment of employees were also claimed in the report.

According to the BMA workers making an estimated 150bn pairs of disposable gloves a year in Asia are subject to labour abuses including excessive working hours and production targets, inadequate pay, extortionate recruitment fees, and illegal retention of migrant workers' passports.

The BMA report said unachievable targets led to employees fainting and urinating at their work stations in order to meet demand at Australian glove maker Ansell’s factory in Sri Lanka, according to IndustriALL,  an international trade union federation.

In 2015 the Jonkoping region in Sweden asked Goodpoint to audit Ansell’s factory in Melaka, Malaysia, after concerns over gloves procured through Broderna Berner, Ansell’s regional distributor.

The audit reported one employee at the factory had worked 140 hours in a single week. Another had worked 45 days consecutively without a day off.

The BMA also cited press reports that in 2014 an employee at the Top Glove factory in Meru, Malaysia, was forcibly detained for five days in a factory after an altercation with another factory worker.

He then had his bank card and PIN number confiscated to so his employer could withdraw money to pay for his food during this time.

The BMA’s Medical Fair and Ethical Trade Group and the European Working Group on Ethical Public Procurement are aiming to build a collaboration of purchasing organisations to ensure against such abuses in the NHS supply chain.

Some procurement agencies for the NHS in England have already made it a contractual requirement for their suppliers to evaluate and improve labour standards in the factories from which they source.

“Several large manufacturing factories have started to improve labour standards in their supply chain,” the report added.

The BMA wants to extend this practice to all NHS providers that purchase medical gloves.

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