US bans surgical glove imports from top maker over forced labor concerns

US bans surgical glove imports from top maker over forced labor concerns
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The U.S. banned importing surgical gloves from two subsidiaries of the world's largest glove manufacturer, citing forced labor concerns.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) placed the ban on the Malaysian manufacturer Top Glove "based on reasonable evidence of forced labour in the manufacturing process," Yahoo News reported.

The list of concerns outlined by the agency included excessive overtime, debt bondage and abusive working and living conditions, as well as the withholding of identification documents, CBP said in a statement.

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The move comes as countries throughout the world have attempted to stock up on personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, hand sanitizer and gloves since the coronavirus pandemic hit earlier this year. 

Top Glove said the ban on gloves would affect around half of its sales in the U.S., adding that the company thinks the ban was due in part to fees paid by foreign workers to employment agencies.

The Malaysian manufacturing industry has long been scrutinized for low standards of treatment for its workforce, as many migrants who work in factories pay large sums to secure underpaying jobs.

According to the report, activists have voiced support for migrant workers, arguing the vast sums they pay to get work in factories leave them with massive amounts of debt they cannot afford to pay back.

Top Glove has come under fire in the past for claims that the company exploits its labor force, despite the manufacturer insisting that it has worked hard to resolve these issues.

The company said it had covered recruitment fees for workers since January 2019, although it added that some workers are still waiting on return fees.

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"Over the past few months, we have been working on this issue which involves extensive tracing, to establish the correct amount to be paid back to our workers," the company said in a statement.

Top Glove said it hoped the ban would be lifted within two weeks, following shares falling 2.5 percent after the ban was announced.

Last year, the U.S. banned another Malaysian glove maker, WRP, from importing to the U.S. but lifted the ban in March.

The Top Glove firm produces over 70 billion gloves a year, and has seen soaring demand as the global pandemic has led to more than 137,000 COVID-19-related fatalities in the U.S. and around 3.5 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data.