World Asia Human rights
Ansell accused of ‘knowingly profiting’ from forced labour at Malaysian glove supplier
By Chris Barrett
August 10, 2022 — 5.49pm
Singapore: Ansell is being sued in a US court by a group of former migrant workers in Malaysia who claim the Australian personal protective equipment giant “knowingly profited” from alleged forced labour in the disposable glove manufacturing industry.
The 13 Bangladeshi workers say they were trafficked to Malaysia and made to live and work in shocking conditions at single-use glove producer Brightway Holdings, a supplier to Ansell.
Malaysia is the world’s largest single-use glove producer but labour practices at some factories in the south-east Asian nation have come under scrutiny.
Malaysia is the world’s largest single-use glove producer but labour practices at some factories in the south-east Asian nation have come under scrutiny. SUPPLIED
They have filed a lawsuit against the ASX-listed company and US firm Kimberly-Clark Corporation (KCC) in the US Federal District Court for the District of Columbia in which they are seeking damages and to represent thousands of other workers in a class action.
Malaysia is a global hub for glove manufacturing, but the industry there has been dogged by revelations of migrant workers being subjected to forced labour.
In December, Brightway became the fifth Malaysian glove maker to have imports banned by the US Customs and Border Protection after it emerged that 781 employees had been living inside three shipping containers at its facility near Kuala Lumpur. A Malaysian minister labelled the conditions there as akin to “modern slavery”.
In their lawsuit against Ansell, the Bangladeshi migrant workers complained of atrocious conditions at Brightway, saying they were forced to work for more than 12 hours a day, often with restricted access to food, water and restrooms, had their passports seized and were physically and verbally abused.
Malaysia Minister of Human Resources M Saravanan inspects a Brightway workers’ dormitory in Selangor state in December 2020.
Malaysia Minister of Human Resources M Saravanan inspects a Brightway workers’ dormitory in Selangor state in December 2020. MALAYSIA MINISTRY OF HUMAN RESOURCES
They said they had been coerced into paying high recruitment fees, received delayed or incomplete wages and had to live in overcrowded and unclean accommodation with restrictions on when they could leave. They were forced to sleep in a single room with as many as 70 other workers and some did not even have a bed or pillow of their own.
Several were also threatened by management at Brightway for taking issue with the conditions they had to endure, according to the lawsuit.
The filing claims Brightway has been a major supplier to Ansell, which has been “making an enormous profit” from gloves bought from the Malaysian company and imported to the US.
“Ansell and KCC knew, or should have known, about forced labour in their disposable gloves supply chains,” said the complaint, which was filed in US court on Tuesday by Terrence Collingsworth, a Washington-based lawyer from International Rights Advocates who is representing the workers.
Ansell and KCC “knowingly profited from the forced labour of individuals manufacturing and producing disposable gloves at Brightway, one of their key suppliers,” it said.
A spokesman for Ansell did not immediately provide comment.
In December, it suspended North American orders from Brightway in the wake of the US customs ban on the Malaysian glove maker but told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age at the time it preferred to maintain ties with suppliers to “achieve meaningful improvement” in working conditions rather than cancelling contracts in response to allegations.
Ansell said then that it was “working closely with Brightway on remediation plans based on third-party audit findings from earlier this year”. An Ansell-commissioned audit of conditions at Brightway three years ago did not report unacceptable living standards.
Malaysia Minister of Human Resources M Saravanan inspects a Brightway workers’ dormitory in Selangor state last December.
Gloves off: Ansell under fire over ‘modern slavery’ at Malaysian supplier
Collingsworth said that before filing the lawsuit he had proposed mediation with Ansell and Kimberly-Clark to obtain compensation for the workers, but both companies declined.
“It is amazing that these big corporations knew about the trafficking and forced labour for years and did nothing about it so they could continue to profit from the illegal abuse of workers,” he said.
One of the Bangladeshi workers, named Shuvo, was quoted in a media release issued by International Rights Advocates on Wednesday saying he had faced multiple forms of exploitation and abuse at Brightway after joining in 2017.
He said when the company discovered he had contacted migrant rights activists he received several threats from management.
“It was a very unsafe and risky situation for me so I decided to escape from the company and returned to Bangladesh,” he said. “I have sought and been denied compensation for my ordeal.”