Malaysian glove maker Supermax Corp announced on Monday that it had introduced a new foreign worker management policy, two months after the U.S. government suspended imports of the company’s products over suspected labor abuse. .
In October, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) made the decision following an investigation in which it found Supermax and its subsidiaries in violation of 10 of the 11 indicators of forced labor defined by the International Organization of the United Nations. labor (ILO). Canada followed suit in November.
Supermax said in a statement it was introducing changes that would bring the company and its suppliers into line with ILO forced labor standards, Reuters reported. “The effectiveness and implementation of these policies will be inspected by different levels of ongoing audits with at least two audit processes and two additional US-based auditors,” he said.
Whether this turns out to be more than a human resource fallacy remains to be seen, but it is a sign of the growing pressure Malaysian companies face for their heavy reliance on masses of ill workers. treated. Over the past two years, seven Malaysian companies have faced US import bans for allegations of forced labor and its associated practices, including physical and sexual violence, intimidation and threats, and conservation of rights. workers’ identity documents.
In March last year, the US government banned imports from the world’s largest glove maker, Top Glove, saying it had found reasonable evidence of forced labor practices at the company’s production facilities. in Malaysia. (The ban was lifted in September after the company said it had addressed all indicators of forced labor in its operations, citing a report by an independent consultant.) Later in the year, the United States United has also banned imports from palm oil plantation giants FGV Holdings. Berhad and Sime Darby Berhad for similar reasons.
In November, high-tech home appliance maker Dyson severed ties with its biggest supplier, Malaysian company ATA IMS Bhd, following allegations of an unidentified whistleblower and an audit independent who revealed poor living conditions, fears of reprisals and unpaid indemnities, among other issues.
For these reasons, in its latest Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), released in July, the US State Department ranked Malaysia at “Tier 3”, its lowest ranking, placing it alongside Korea. from the North, Myanmar, China, Syria and Turkmenistan. .
The large number of cases suggests that Malaysia’s rapidly growing export economy has developed a systemic dependence on the massive exploitation of workers, many of whom are migrants from other parts of South Asia. -Is – and many of them are undocumented.
As Reuters noted in a detailed analysis released last month, as part of the news agency’s unprecedented coverage of labor issues in Malaysia, the country has “for decades relied on migrant workers for fueling basic manufacturing and agriculture ”, which has helped the country become“ an integral part of the global supply chain for products as diverse as semiconductors, iPhone components, medical gloves and palm oil.
But as foreign countries become increasingly aware of the situation on the ground in Malaysian factories and plantations – Reuters quoted an analyst from London-based ethical trade consultancy Impactt as saying that Malaysia has become “l ‘star child’ of forced labor issues – it’s only a matter of time before things start to affect future investment plans and supply contracts.
The Malaysian government undoubtedly recognizes this. Like Supermax, it is committed to complying with internationally recognized labor standards and last month accused Dyson supplier ATA of a number of labor law violations.
“The government will continue to pay attention to the challenges of dealing with forced labor issues, especially those involving foreign workers, and will continue to implement various improvements to existing initiatives,” Human Resources Minister Saravanan said. , after Malaysia was demoted by the State Department’s TIP. report.
However, assuming the government is genuinely interested in getting to the bottom of the problem, it is not yet clear how quickly and effectively its regulators can tackle the abuses that occur in isolated plantations and in the far reaches of the network of contractors who operate. make up the Malaysian supply chain. Kuala Lumpur may soon find that a bad reputation, once earned, is hard to lose.