NHS gloves investigated over slavery claims

20 December 2018

The UK government is investigating standards at a leading medical glove manufacturer following claims that migrant workers are having to work illegal overtime.  

In a report by Thomson Reuters, migrant workers at Malaysian medical glove manufacturer Top Glove have alleged that they must work long overtime hours in order to pay off exorbitant debts to recruitment agencies.

Migrant workers at the factory, which supplies gloves to the NHS, often exceed the limit of overtime hours stipulated under local labour laws in order to pay off debts of up to 5,000 Malaysian ringgit ($1,200) to recruitment agencies.

Documents shared by migrant workers showed many clocked 90-120hrs of overtime each month, despite Malaysian laws capping overtime hours at 104hrs per month.

The firm employs over 11,000 migrant workers from countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and India, supplying gloves to 195 countries including the UK.

Gloves manufactured in Top Glove factories are shipped to multiple brands that in turn supply NHS Supply Chain. The organisation has a 40% market share of medical goods purchased by NHS hospitals and clinics, meaning thousands of gloves made by migrant workers are distributed within the NHS.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told SM: "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."

In response to the report Top Glove has pledged to clean up its labour supply chain and workplace practices and it plans to investigate and sever ties with unethical recruitment agencies.

Speaking to the Thomson Reuters, Top Glove’s managing director Lee Kim Meow said: "We want to stop dealing with such suppliers if we know they are unscrupulous. It's our duty to do that, we will never condone it.

"We need workers, no doubt, but we will not stoop so low to support people who exploit workers."

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