They work 12-hour shifts, six days a week, on factory floors where temperatures can surpass 100 degrees. Lunch breaks are brief, sick days highly discouraged. Take too long coming back from the bathroom and it’ll be docked from the next paycheck.
When the shift ends, they collapse onto bunk beds in crowded dormitories far from home, staring up at ceiling fans, knowing that the next day they’ll do it again — all for less than $1.50 an hour.
Such is life for tens of thousands of laborers from Nepal, Bangladesh, and other countries toiling in Malaysia to produce one of the pandemic’s essential items: rubber gloves. Read more…
COVID-19 has created a windfall for the Malaysian companies that supply nearly two-thirds of the disposable latex and synthetic gloves used to fight contamination in hospitals, labs, pharmacies, and kitchens worldwide. But record-breaking sales have been accompanied by fresh scrutiny over labor practices — especially the treatment of the low-paid migrant workers who run the assembly lines.
The reckoning is fueled by an unlikely source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which has resurrected a century-old trade law to block imports from glove companies it suspects of using forced labor.
After years of complaints from labor rights groups, the agency in July banned products from Top Glove, maker of one-quarter of the world’s gloves, citing “reasonable evidence” that the company was subjecting workers to abusive living and working conditions, excessive overtime, and what the International Labor Organization calls debt bondage.
The last allegation stems from the practice of charging recruitment fees — from several hundred dollars to nearly $5,000 —that often take months or years to work off, in effect trapping migrants in jobs until the debts are cleared.
An earlier ban against a smaller glove maker called WRP was lifted in March, just as COVID-19 began to race across the U.S. As part of the deal, WRP announced that it would repay up to $5 million in recruitment fees, ranging from $1,100 to $3,800 per worker, over the next 30 months.