In mid-July of last year, U.S. Customs placed a detention order on imports of products manufactured by Top Glove, the world's largest rubber glove maker. In spite of the soaring demand for medical gloves at the time, by banning the world's largest gloves maker, U.S. Customs sent an unequivocal message to U.S. importers that products manufactured under inhumane and exploitative conditions will not be allowed entry to U.S. supply chains.
This is not the first time Top Glove has appeared in the news for inhumane and exploitative practices. In 2018, The Guardian reported that migrants workers were subjected to passport confiscation, forced labor, debt bondage, and withheld wages. Other news reports ran investigations and found that Top Glove was housing workers in cramped conditions, paying them just about £1 per hour, forcing them to work overtime to meet booming demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and not adequately ensuring social distancing.
In the past, Top Glove has denied all allegations made against it. However, the ban by U.S. Customs prompted Top Glove to announce plans to remedy claims made against it by improving workers' accommodation and providing better amenities. Top Gove reportedly fired a whistleblower the same day of the announcement for sharing photos of overcrowded working conditions. In late December, Top Glove announced it would no longer fire whistleblowers.
Top Glove is now awaiting for U.S. Customs to verify actions it took to remedy forced labor practices. Top Glove's ban has allowed its competitors to cement and grow market share in the US; INTCO Medical, Ansell, Supermax, Bluesail, Medline Industries, AMMEX Corporation - to name just a few.
The import ban has affected Top Glove's outlook, as it even decided to delay its Hong Kong IPO. If Top Glove wishes to see its products in U.S. supply chains again, it must demonstrate to U.S. Customs that its labor conditions meet 21st century standards. And even if Top Glove's import ban is lifted, who's to say American companies will be willing to associate themselves with a brand shrouded in negative press? At a time when America's businesses are getting serious about ESG, only time will tell.