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Malaysia: Social auditors for Brightway glove factory concluded there was no forced labour; state inspectors found workers in modern slavery conditions

"‘Slavery’ found at a Malaysian glove factory. Why didn’t the auditor see it?", 20 May 2021

In December 2020 ... officials raided latex glove maker Brightway Holdings near Kuala Lumpur. They said they found workers living in shipping containers, under conditions so squalid that human resources minister M. Saravanan later likened them to “modern slavery.”

... Nineteen months earlier, inspectors from a social-auditing firm ... had visited the same three facilities. In three reports over 350 pages, they had detailed 61 violations of global ethical standards and checked boxes for 50 violations of Malaysian labour laws.

Even so, the executive summary of each report concluded: "There is no forced, bonded or involuntary prison labour hired in this facility."

... There is no evidence of any impropriety by the auditor Brightway hired, British firm Intertek Group (ITRK.L), which declined to comment on Brightway. Intertek said its audits meet stringent operational procedures with rigorous standards, and are themselves subject to regular and thorough independent audits. It did not say by whom.

... About a month after the Malaysia raids, U.S. Customs and Border Protection opened investigations into Brightway. U.S. Customs is examining forced labour allegations ...

In response, Brightway said U.S. Customs has not asked the company for any details.

... Brightway now faces a total of 30 charges for violating a law on minimum standards of housing and amenities, the Malaysian labour department said in December.

Brightway did not comment on these charges ...

Brightway's customers include Kimberly Clark (KMB.N) of the United States ... Australian personal protective equipment supplier Ansell (ANN.AX); and the UK's National Health Service. All declined to comment in detail on Intertek's reports. Ansell told Reuters the audits, when it inspected them, "revealed several non-compliances with labour standards."

.... Kimberly-Clark spokesman Terry Balluck said the company was "keenly aware of the real-life challenges with an effective audit," but added that every audit identifies "some issue or opportunity," and audits continue to be an effective tool to safeguard workers at all levels.

... The NHS directed queries to the U.K. Department of Health and Social Care. A spokesman said, "all our suppliers must follow the highest legal and ethical standards or they can be blocked from applying for future contracts."