Business

NZ supplier pulls gloves over forced labour links

Ebos, the largest medical and personal protective equipment supplier to the healthcare market in New Zealand, has stopped importing a brand of disposable gloves, after Newsroom highlighted links with Top Glove, a huge Malaysian glove producer accused of using forced migrant labour

Following a Newsroom story and podcast into accusations against glove manufacturer Top Glove, international watchdog the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre contacted New Zealand PPE supplier Ebos - and another PPE importer, Protec Solutions - asking them to investigate their supply chains.

Ebos, which is listed on the New Zealand and Australian stock exchanges, responded by stopping all imports of a brand of glove made by Top Glove and supplied to New Zealand by Australian glove and protective equipment company Ansell. 

Ansell has been accused in the past of buying from Top Glove and other companies linked with worker exploitation.

“Following Nikki’s piece we engaged directly with both Protec Solutions and Ebos, drawing their attention to allegations of linkage to slave-like conditions in Top Glove’s Malaysian factories and inviting a response,” says Amy Sinclair, regional representative for the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

“We did not receive a response from Protec, but Ebos took action, had discussions with Ansell and undertook to cease ordering the product line in question - Ansell MicroThin Nitrile glove, manufactured by Top Glove.”

Newsroom contacted Wellington-based Protec Solutions, which has imported gloves directly from Top Glove and has sold them to hospitals and to the Foodstuffs supermarket chain. 

Protec managing director Robert Wong did not want to comment on the allegations of forced labour from his Malaysian supplier.

“We are a small company, they are a large manufacturer. That’s all I’m prepared to say,” he told Newsroom.

Foodstuffs pulled disposable gloves off its shelves following Newsroom’s investigation, while it checked its supply chains.

Sinclair says the more pressure goes on Top Glove and other Malaysian glove suppliers accused of forced labour and slavery-like conditions, the more likely they are to treat workers well. In particular, US bans on imports of gloves from two Top Glove factories have been instrumental in pushing the company to commit to repaying millions of dollars to immigrant workers for illegal recruitment fees.  

“Growing pressure from suppliers, together with recent action under the US Tariff Act will, we hope, bring additional pressure to bear on Top Glove to improve conditions for its workers,” Sinclair says.

Top Glove is the largest glove manufacturer in the world, so action it takes could influence other companies to do the right thing too, human rights activists say.

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