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Commentary: Migrant workers in Malaysia meeting global demand for medical gloves are at risk of forced labour, exploitation & infection

"Don't forget the people behind the PPE – migrant workers meeting the surge in demand for medical gloves", 17 April 2020

... It should not be a question of choosing between protection of healthcare workers... and also ensuring essential supply chain workers are not exploited...

[The US has] lifted sanctions... on a Malaysian glove manufacturer suspected of forced labour, claiming its workers were no longer exploited... [T]he EU... urg[ed] Malaysian gloves manufacturers to get ‘creative’ to ensure 24/7 production to meet the EU’s urgent demand for gloves...

30,000 plus foreign migrants produc[e] the estimated 200 billions gloves exported each year from Malaysia... in conditions... [that] meet... international definitions of forced labour... [These workers pay] largely un-remediated recruitment costs of up to $5,000... One gloves worker recently confided to me that he feared for his life by working at this time...

[G]loves manufacturers were quick in lobbying for a relaxation of... lockdown rules meant to balance the risk of increased infections and protection for workers... Malaysian glove factories have now... returned to full production and staffing... 

[W]orkers... in cramped, unhygienic dormitories in rooms of up to 30 or 40 people... are now also at increased risk of contracting Covid-19 too – and rapidly spreading it. 

[T]he global medical supplies industry and governments buying gloves should use their leverage to support manufacturers to ensure they adhere to Covid-19 health and safety norms...

[W]orkers... should be offered hardship bonuses... One leading Malaysian gloves manufacturer has given foreign workers a 10 per cent pay rise for work during this pandemic and also committed to soon reimbursing all foreign workers recruitment fees... [G]loves suppliers, buyers and governments must start to plan an industry-wide programme to pay back hefty recruitment fees that continue to keep glove workers in debt bondage...

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