Group: Only one M’sian firm barred from entering US

PETALING JAYA: Only one Malaysian company producing rubber gloves has been blocked from entering the United States for its alleged involvement in forced labour, says the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (Margma).

Margma said there is no blanket ban on other companies producing rubber gloves here.

The association said that its members have always taken great concerns over the welfare of their workers.

The industry, said Margma, also worked on social compliance initiatives since last year to continuously improve the welfare of the workers in the rubber glove industry.

“We have formed a Social Compliance Committee and organised a national seminar under the purview of the Malaysian Rubber Export Promotion Council (MREPC).

“There are various compliances to be adhered to and there is a lot of work to be carried out to ensure worker’s rights, accommodation and general welfare is protected and for these initiatives, time and expenditure are required and together we have drawn out a programme that will make our industry fully in compliance, ” said Margma in a statement yesterday.

On Tuesday, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it had blocked the import of disposable rubber gloves from a Malaysian company suspected to have been made with forced labour.

The CBP named Sepang-based rubber maker WRP Asia as one of five companies.

Others included a garment maker from China, a group of artisanal gold miners from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a diamond mining company from Zimbabwe and a bone black manufacturer from Brazil.

The companies were issued Withhold Release Orders on Monday.

The Star has reached out to WRP Asia but did not get a response as at press time.

Margma said that it has also engaged and updated the US Embassy and Department of Labour during their visits while trying to implement Social Compliance Standards in the rubber glove industry here.

It said it takes social compliance very seriously to ensure the shipment of gloves to the US and other countries are in line with the conditions imposed.

“As a matter of comfort, many American companies do carry out periodic audits on the manufacturers to ensure there is compliance, ” said Margma.

Meanwhile, MREPC said the rubber product industry views the issues of social compliance highlighted in the media seriously.

To support efforts of industry members in meeting social and ethical responsibilities, the MREPC said it is rolling out a new incentive to encourage companies in the rubber product industry to undergo social compliance audit.

“MREPC has also embarked a scoping study to gauge the readiness of industry members on meeting social compliance requirements.

“The objectives of the study are to assess rubber product companies’ level of awareness of the global trend towards enhanced corporate responsibility in the area of social compliance and their readiness and capacity to comply with such requirements, ” it said in a statement.

Currently, MREPC together with senior members of the industry is working on a Code of Conduct for the rubber product industry that will focus on several key issues related to the rights and welfare of the workers.

It also aims at creating a safe and conducive workplace environment for the workers.

It was reported that CBP said the move was based on information obtained and reviewed which indicated that the products were produced, in whole or in part, using forced labour.

“CBP’s issuing of these five withhold release orders shows that if we suspect a product is made using forced labour, we’ll take that product off US shelves.

“A major part of CBP’s mission is facilitating legitimate trade and travel, ” said CBP acting commissioner Mark Morgan in a statement on Tuesday.

CBP said under US law, it was illegal to import goods that were made wholly or in part by forced labour, including convict labour, indentured labour, and forced or indentured child labour.

When sufficient information is available, CBP may detain goods believed to have been produced with forced labour by issuing a WRO.

This means that importers have the opportunity to either re-export the detained shipments at any time or to submit information to CBP demonstrating that the goods were not in violation.

CBP said it received allegations of forced labour from a variety of sources, including news reports and tips from the general public or trade community.

It could also self-initiate an investigation into the use of forced labour in any given supply chain.

“CBP is firmly committed to identifying and preventing products made with the use of forced labour from entering the stream of US Commerce, ” said executive assistant commissioner at the CBP Office of Trade Brenda Smith.

In January, it was reported that nearly 2,000 migrant workers staged a three-day strike claiming that WRP Asia had not paid three months’ worth of wages.

The Labour Department, under the Human Resources Ministry, launched an investigation into the company and found that it had withheld the salaries of its workers, did not pay overtime, had made unfair pay cuts and had wrongful working hours during break and public holidays.

WRP Asia agreed to settle the outstanding wages but Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran said the ministry would take legal action against them.

In response, WRP confirmed with Thomson Reuters Foundation that there was a strike but called the charges “unfounded”, adding that they had settled the matter with the workers.

In a statement yesterday, the Human Resources Ministry said it will meet with officials from the US embassy and explain that action has been taken against the company.

“It has to be highlighted again, that only one Malaysian glove producer has been banned and not the whole rubber glove sector.

“After consulting with the Cabinet on the matter, the ministry will meet with all rubber glove makers this Friday to explain the repercussions of forced labour in their operations, ” it said.

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