Malaysia to Cite Glove Maker for Staff Housing Akin to ‘Modern Slavery’ | Voice of America - English

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After Malaysian labor inspectors discovered that the company's migrant workers were living in a dirty and crowded condition, Malaysia was filing dozens of allegations against manufacturers that supply rubber gloves to the United States and other countries.

The surge in global demand for personal protective equipment caused by the coronavirus pandemic has caused the international community to pay attention to the living and working conditions of migrant workers who make rubber gloves in Malaysia. Nearly two pairs of gloves are lost in every three pairs of gloves in the world.

The government announced plans in early December to file the first 19 charges against another leading glove manufacturer, Top Glove, under the new workers’ housing law. A COVID-19 outbreak that occurred a month ago when the company’s dormitory was crowded with migrant workers caused the largest group of infections in the country until then.

After a large number of government raids on its facilities in the last few days of 2020, the latest 30 planned fee targets are for Brightway Holdings and its two subsidiaries Biopro and La Glove.

According to its website, the Malaysian group of companies has five factories in the country and employs about 2,900 workers, making more than 4 billion gloves for customers worldwide each year.

Malaysian Human Resources Minister Saravanan Murugan accompanied labor inspectors to conduct some surprise inspections and sent local reporters to blow up the company’s workers’ housing.

He told the local broadcaster Astro Awani: "I didn't know anyone would live like this." "It looks like modern slavery."

Photos of the dormitory shared by the Ministry of Health and the media show that in the crumbling building, the hall is dimly lit and poorly ventilated, with bunk beds and basic cubicles, and several workers crowded in the shared bathroom without masks or any social distance.

Human Resources officials told VOA last week that the authorities are still preparing these allegations and it may be another month or two before they can be raised. They refused to answer any other questions about the case.

A Brightway worker from Bangladesh told the Voice of America (VOA) that they shared a crowded and boring hall and only 200 bathrooms. The X on the floor marked with yellow tape indicates social distancing measures. However, he said that three people were lying side by side on the bed, and they did not do well.

"They always speak socially. But there are many people living and working in one place, so it is difficult to do it," he said. "I don't think the company has taken the necessary measures to protect us from COVID. They only give us soap to wash our hands."

He said that each worker in the company only has two masks per month, and many of them buy them with their own moderate wages.

"I feel sad here. There are 200 people and it gets very hot and noisy at night," he added. "Sometimes we can't sleep; it depends on the weather." 

Brightway acknowledged that some of its dormitories were overcrowded, but said that to ensure personal safety during the pandemic, workers were moved to several buildings that inspectors had recently visited from its original hotel.

Brightway's managing director, Govindasamy Baskaran, told VOA: "It's really crowded here because they all want to move to a safer place."

"But of course they have provided everything they need. They know it's crowded, but it feels much safer for them because they have many cases in their homes and died of COVID.  

Most of the migrant workers in Malaysian glove factories come from Bangladesh and Nepal, hoping to earn higher wages than their families.

Baskaran said that after the raid, the company also tested all workers for COVID-19. He said in a letter shared by the clinic where the test was conducted that all samples were negative.

After a raid on the Biopro website on December 24, Minister Saravanan confirmed local reports that the company has been regarded as a visit by government sources, which gave the company time to evacuate workers and make some hasty improvements.

Baskaran denied that the company had notified in advance. He said that one or two days before the visit, the workers were moved out of the Biopro dormitory because the company wanted to conduct inspections after the raid on La Glove on December 21.

He said the company has purchased land to build new dormitories to comply with government housing regulations for workers and is seeking to purchase more.

"We will provide some, I will not say the most advanced hotel, but for all these people, it is a good place to live, including recreational areas." We have some good plans," Baskaran said.  

Defenders of labor rights say that Brightway and Top Glove are not the only ones who cram their migrant workers into poor-quality housing.

What Breitway found was "shocking," but it is not surprising, Adrian Pereira, executive director of the North-South Initiative, said that the organization is a local NGO and a member of the Coalition for the Right to Remedies for Immigrant Workers.

"I suspect that almost all immigration labor departments have it. I think that if it were not for international auditors and ethical trade organizations, I think almost all departments involving immigrant workers would be as scary as this."

Pereira said the government will need to promote deeper reforms of the industry to reverse the situation that has deteriorated for decades.

He said: "Two or three attacks are not enough to change their behavior." "This is what we have seen in the past 20 or 30 years. To make them not only abide by the law, but also comply with international labor standards, it requires more than just raids. ."

The business association does not doubt that certain employee dormitories have not met the new government regulations, but they urge the authorities to give them more time to comply.

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