Second major loss for Supermax
Following in the footsteps of the U.S., Canada has announced the termination of two contracts with Malaysian glove making company, Supermax Corp over allegations of human rights violations and abuse of migrant workers. This follows a hold placed on Supermax deliveries in November 2021 as the Canadian government sought an independent audit of the company’s operations.
The audit was prompted by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) banning shipments of Supermax gloves in October 2021 due to indications of “their use of forced labor in manufacturing operations.” At the time, CBP had determined that Supermax met 10 of 11 International Labour Organization (ILO) forced labor indicators.
Labor rights activist Andy Hall had filed the CBP petition to have Supermax investigated.
Will the U.K. be next?
British law firm, Wilson Solicitors, is starting legal action against the U.K. government over the National Health Service continuing to purchase gloves from Supermax. The U.K. last year came under fire for its “quiet” contract with another Malaysian glove giant, Top Glove. One of the firm’s lawyers, Nusrat Uddin, says governments knew since 2013 or 2014 that there was a high risk of worker abuse in the Malaysian medical glove industry.
The CBC reports,
Most come from Bangladesh and Nepal, [Uddin] said, and are heavily indebted from paying problematic “recruitment fees” to their employers. Their families depend on them to send income home, but they are economically dependent on their employer.
Their work days are long and hot; Malaysia only recently changed its law to prohibit working seven days a week. Uddin said she’s seen evidence of workers housed in row upon row of bunks in overcrowded accommodations.
She said the workers’ movements were restricted during the pandemic. Some had their passports taken away and were unable to leave their employer’s premises for up to 18 months, she added.
Exploiting some to protect others
The loss of Canada’s business will deal a serious second blow to the company already reeling from the CBP ban. Following the ban, the company’s shares fell by almost 9%. The U.S. used to account for 20% of the firm’s total sales. Supermax says it takes compliance “seriously” and has been working on meeting ILO standards since 2019.
The more countries enforce zero tolerance for forced labor goods, the more likely companies like Supermax will alter their business model. As Uddin noted, “The world is becoming smaller. We’re really understanding how many of our products — whether it’s in our supermarkets … our clothes … now our medical supplies — are really tainted with the exploitation of others around the world.”
One way to ensure companies shape up – before they reach borders – is if countries had mandatory human rights due diligence legislation in place.
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