Analysis and Commentary

Ansell responds to forced labour allegations against a supplier

Analysis and Commentary

International surgical and industrial glove manufacturer Ansell has again been forced to respond to allegations of forced labour made by employees of one of the company’s third-party suppliers.

The company, which has faced similar allegations in recent years, said it was deeply concerned by reports of forced labour at supplier Brightway Group.

However Ansell has taken no action to terminate Brightway’s contracts to supply the company with gloves.

In December United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) banned imports from three companies in the group – Brightway Holdings, Laglove and Biopro – into the US, the sixth ban in 18 months on a Malaysian company, and the fifth from the country’s glove manufacturing sector since September 2019.

CBP identified 10 of the 11 International Labour Organization’s indicators of forced labor in an investigation into Brightway.

This is not the first time Brightway has been named as breaching labour laws.

Reuters reported a raid by Malaysian officials on a Brightway facility in December 2020 that ‘found workers living in shipping containers, under conditions so squalid that human resources minister M. Saravanan later likened them to “modern slavery”.’

The news agency also said that in 2019 inspectors from a social-auditing firm had checked boxes for 50 violations of Malaysian labour laws.

This raises questions about both Brightway and Ansell.

Chairman John Bevan spent some time at the company’s recent AGM discussing the case and said: “The location of some of Ansell’s own operations and the location of many of our third party suppliers expose us to higher risks of labour exploitation.

“These are complex issues and as a market leader, we are actively promoting good working conditions across our own operations, our third party supply chain and the wider industry.”

Bevan reiterated the company’s position on human rights and modern slavery risks.

“We take the labour practices of our suppliers seriously, and any allegation of forced labour is of the highest concern.

“As these allegations are subject to a lawsuit, there are constraints on our ability comment on them, however we are defending our business and operations.”

Bevan said Ansell did not automatically cancel supplier contracts upon an allegation of forced labour.

“Instead we choose to provide the supplier with the opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to improve working conditions through meaningful action.

“This approach allows continued employment for the supplier’s workforce and improves workers’ conditions.

“…However if we determine suppliers are not working in good faith to progress positive change in their labour standards compliance, we will take further action, including finding alternative sources for our product and terminating the supplier relationship.”

Bevan left it to CEO Neil Salmon to detail action taken regarding modern slavery in the company’s supply chain.

Salmon said the company’s approach was based on the roll out of the company’s management framework across suppliers and membership of the Responsible Glove Alliance as keys to establishing industry standards.

This was complemented by ‘enhanced’ auditing of suppliers and a requirement that suppliers have a grievance mechanism in place.

Salmon said: “I am able to confirm today that suppliers representing 98 percent of Ansell’s finished goods spend in Malaysia have declared that they have completed their recruitment fee reimbursement programme, reimbursing over $30 million to more than 18,000 migrant workers.

“And we believe all our current Malaysian finished goods suppliers have substantially addressed the other major causes of concern regarding modern slavery, including freedom of movement and migrant worker living conditions.”

These statements indicate the dire state of worker rights in Malaysia, with debt bondage, seizure of migrant passports and appalling conditions seemingly endemic.

However Ansell’s own factories are not implicated in such breaches of labour laws.

Ansell is somewhat trapped in utilising Malaysian suppliers, with investment in a new Ansell factory in India and expansion of another in Thailand not keeping up with booming glove demand during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But it must be acknowledged that despite this year’s assurances of improved working conditions, this website has reported similar allegations to those against Brightway since 2018.

Ansell’s responses are always that it is working with suppliers to make improvements.

However Ansell as a major glove purchaser also has immense power over its suppliers.

One would hope that very soon the company is able to give a more satisfactory response than that suppliers have ‘substantially addressed the other major causes of concern regarding modern slavery, including freedom of movement and migrant worker living conditions’.

Further reading:

Picture: Ansell/again forced to respond to forced labour allegations

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