The United States will seize products made by Malaysia's Top Glove after concluding the firm uses forced labour, officials said, dealing a fresh blow to the world's biggest surgical glove maker.
Top Glove’s profits and stock price surged last year as countries worldwide rushed to buy protective gear during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the firm, which can produce more than 96 billion gloves a year, has been rocked by a series of scandals including a virus outbreak in dormitories that infected thousands of migrant workers.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had already banned gloves from two of Top Glove’s subsidiaries last year after saying it suspected the company was committing labour abuses.
It went a step further on Monday, announcing it had “sufficient information” to conclude that Top Glove uses forced labour. The federal agency said it would seize any gloves manufactured by the firm at US ports of entry.
“CBP will not tolerate foreign companies’ exploitation of vulnerable workers to sell cheap, unethically made goods to American consumers,” said Troy Miller, a CBP senior official.
The agency said the move would not have a significant impact on US imports of disposable gloves, vital for combatting the devastating US virus outbreak.
Top Glove’s shares were down more than five percent following the news.
Announcing the initial ban last year, CBP said it believed there was evidence of debt bondage, excessive overtime, and abusive working and living conditions in Top Glove’s production processes.
The company said Tuesday it was seeking to resolve the matter with US authorities.
“Top Glove understands the concerns of all our stakeholders, including CBP, to ensure that forced labour is not present in the manufacturing of gloves and personal protective equipment,” it said in a statement.
“This is the Company’s shared top priority, and it seeks to resolve any ongoing areas of concern immediately.”
Many of Top Glove’s workers are low-paid migrants from South Asia, who are typically housed in dormitories where dozens of men share a room and sleep on bunk beds.
The coronavirus outbreak at Top Glove dormitories infected about 5,000 workers — a quarter of the company’s workforce — and led to the temporary closure of over half of its factories in Malaysia.
Earlier in March, Top Glove was charged by Malaysian authorities with providing poor housing for its workers, and faces hefty fines if convicted.
The company has insisted it is improving its employees’ accommodation by making substantial investments and building new dormitories.