Top Glove, the world’s largest manufacturer of latex gloves, will shut down more than half its factories after nearly 2,500 of its workers tested positive for Covid-19 amidst a surge in demand for its gloves, a key part of personal protective gear.
Of the nearly 5,800 workers the Malaysian company has tested so far, 2,453 have tested positive for Covid-19, the BBC reported, citing the company.
In an official statement, the company said it has temporarily stopped production in 16 of its facilities in the badly hit Meru region, while its remaining 12 facilities in the area have been operating at “reduced capacities.”
The company plans to close down 28 of its 41 plants in Malaysia in phases as it attempts to curb the spread of the virus among its workforce, the BBC report added.
On Monday, the Malaysian health ministry reported a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases in the region where Top Glove’s factories and worker dormitories are located.
The company’s shares slumped by 7.48% on Tuesday.
The outbreak has led to questions about working conditions for the low-paid migrant workers at Top Glove’s factories, which have been dealing with a surge in demand for PPE during the pandemic. Many of the company’s workers — mostly immigrants from Nepal, Bangladesh and other countries — have complained about 72-hour work weeks, cramped living conditions and low wages, a Los Angeles Times report found. Earlier this year, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) placed a detention order on imports from two of Top Glove’s subsidiaries. Such an action by the CBP is targeted against companies suspected of using forced labor. The Department of Labor also issued a report that pointed at foreign workers being forced to pay steep recruitment fees to secure jobs in the rubber glove industry in Malaysia, which leads to debt and bonded labor. Top Glove’s founder Lim Wee Chai is ranked 14th on Forbes’ 2020 Rich List for Malaysia with a current net worth of $4.2 billion.
26%. That’s the market share that Top Glove says it holds of the world’s supply of rubber gloves, producing 90 billion gloves every year, across factories in China, Thailand and Vietnam as well as Malaysia.
What we don’t know
The extent to which the factory closures will further affect the world’s already tight supply of rubber gloves. Shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, was a key roadblock for healthcare workers seeking to protect themselves from catching and potentially spreading the virus, while pandemic-induced rubber shortages in Southeast Asia triggered a jump in the price of the material. A 48% increase in Top Glove’s exports of rubber gloves is expected to mean that shortages could last until 2022, Malaysia’s rubber glove manufacturers association told Reuters last month.