U.S. Blocks Shipments From Malaysian Disposable Glove Producer

Pandemic-era growth has exacerbated existing forced labor issues in the industry

(Source: Adobe Stock)

By Samuel Rubenfeld

Thursday, November 4, 2021


U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced Thursday it would detain shipments of disposable gloves produced in Malaysia by a group of companies collectively known as Smart Glove, the agency’s latest move against a sector wracked by forced labor concerns as its growth skyrockets amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Smart Glove’s production facilities use forced labor, CBP said, adding that the agency found seven of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) indicators of forced labor in its probe.

“Manufacturers, like Smart Glove, who fail to abide by our laws will face consequences as we root out this inhumane practice from the U.S. supply chain,” said Troy Miller, acting CBP commissioner, in a statement.

Smart Glove has shipped 8.8 million kilograms of goods to the U.S. since January 2020, according to trade data reviewed by Kharon. Other companies identified by name in the CBP  announcement on Thursday, including Platinum Glove Industries Sdn Bhd., GX Corporation Sdn Bhd. and Sigma Glove Industries Sdn Bhd., sent around 2.2 million, 3.4 million and 1.2 million kilograms of goods in that time period, respectively, trade data show.

Smart Glove is the third Malaysian disposable glove manufacturer to face a recent U.S. import ban, known as a Withhold Release Order (WRO). CBP has increasingly used WROs to block goods produced using forced labor from entering the U.S., Kharon reported in June 2020

More recently, the effort has turned to Malaysian glove manufacturers: Last month, CBP issued an order blocking disposable gloves produced by Supermax Corporation Bhd. In September, the agency allowed imports from Top Glove Corp. Bhd., the world’s largest disposable glove producer, after the company addressed forced labor issues found at its facilities.

Malaysia holds a 63 percent global market share for rubber gloves, according to the ILO, which is working on a joint initiative with the European Commission to promote “decent work” in the global supply chain, including in rubber glove manufacturing. The country accounted for about three quarters of non-hard rubber medical gloves imported into the U.S. in 2020, with no other country holding a significant share, according to a June 2021 briefing produced for the U.S. International Trade Commission. Rubber gloves from Malaysia are on the U.S. Bureau of International Labor Affairs’ (ILAB) list of goods produced by child or forced labor.  

Increased global demand for medical gloves amid the COVID-19 pandemic led the industry to grow in Malaysia by 103 percent in 2020, and some long standing labor issues worsened, according to a July 2021 report by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre. Forced labor is “endemic” in the sector, and restrictions on movement, isolation, abusive working and living conditions, and excessive overtime have intensified, the report found.

Hidden camera footage seen by Canadian media in January revealed problems at many top Malaysian glove producers, including Smart Glove, where an employee provided photos of cramped living quarters and said he had worked for a full year without a day off. Laborers at Smart Glove and other Malaysian glove producers said they had worked close to 270 hours per month, about 70 hours more than the ILO recommends, the Canadian media report said. 

After the Canadian media outlet reached out to Smart Glove, the company said it would reimburse employees and upgrade their living quarters, the report said.

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