US seizing PPE products over forced labour

31 March 2021

US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has ordered customs officials to seize shipments from Malaysian firm Top Glove over forced labour concerns.

The CBP said it had received “sufficient information” to believe that Top Glove, which claims to be the world’s largest producer of disposable gloves, uses forced labour in its production facilities.

As a result, the department has directed personnel at US ports of entry to “begin seizing disposable gloves produced in Malaysia by Top Glove”.

The new measures build on a withhold release order (WRO) issued last year that barred imports from two of Top Glove’s subsidiaries due to suspected labour abuses.

“That WRO was based on reasonable but not conclusive information that multiple forced labour indicators exist in Top Glove’s production process, including debt bondage, excessive overtime, abusive working and living conditions, and retention of identity documents,” CBP said. 

Troy Miller, senior official performing the duties of the CBP commissioner, said the forced labour finding was the result of an investigation lasting months.

“CBP will not tolerate foreign companies’ exploitation of vulnerable workers to sell cheap, unethically-made goods to American consumers,” he said.

John Leonard, CBP acting executive assistant commissioner for trade, added: “CBP has taken steps to ensure that this targeted enforcement action against Top Glove will not have a significant impact on total US imports of disposable gloves.

“We continue to work with our interagency partners to ensure that the personal protective equipment, medical devices and pharmaceuticals needed for the Covid-19 response are cleared for entry as expeditiously as possible while verifying that those goods are authorized and safe for use.”

Top Glove said its US counsels are liaising with CBP representatives to gain “sufficient information” on the forced labour findings. 

The firm said ethical trade consultancy Impactt, which was appointed by Top Glove in July 2020, had issued a statement earlier in the month which confirmed that “there is no systemic forced labour across the eleven International Labour Organization’s indicators in our direct operations”.

“Top Glove understands the concerns of all our stakeholders, including CBP, to ensure that forced labour is not present in the manufacturing of gloves and personal protective equipment. This is the company’s shared top priority, and it seeks to resolve any ongoing areas of concern immediately,” it said. 

Last year, New Zealand’s largest medical and PPE supplier confirmed it had stopped importing disposable gloves made by Top Glove due to forced labour links.

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