Ansell says worker rights abuse in its supply chains under investigation
Ansell chairman Glenn Barnes says the company is investigating allegations one of its major Malaysian suppliers is abusing worker rights, and will dump any supplier it finds is exploiting workers.
The company, he said, also wants to improve conditions in its own factories in Malaysia, where there are concerns some workers — who want to work overtime to boost wages — are clocking 160 hours overtime a month.
An ABC News investigation last month revealed several issues — including excessive overtime and exorbitant recruitment fees — affecting foreign workers at factories operated by Malaysian-listed giant Top Glove.
As one of the world’s major producers of rubber gloves, Top Glove is a major supplier to a number of companies globally, including Ansell, as well as public hospital operators including Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).
Ansell seeks answers from Top Glove
Mr Barnes told ABC News they were aware of the allegations of worker rights abuse raised by media and a range of other stakeholders, including union and labour rights groups that have called on Ansell to ensure its supply chains are clean.
“We don’t like to see exploitation of any shape or form,” he said.
Ansell had for years been working with suppliers, he said, trying to get agreements in place to ensure practices are in accordance with International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards, as well as the company’s own sustainability guidelines.
“We were surprised to hear what’s come out of this Top Glove inquiry and we are in the process of talking to Top Glove to work out whether what was reported was correct or not,” Mr Barnes said.
“And if it is correct, how quickly they [Top Glove] can rectify the situation, or we will need to find other suppliers.”
He said he would be talking to Ansell chief executive Magnus Nicolin next week to get an update.
“We’ve been talking about this ever since it hit the marketplace and became news to us,” he said.
“He [Mr Nicolin] has been working on that with all the people in our supply chain to gather all the facts and also talk to suppliers like Top Glove to make sure we don’t have an ongoing problem.”
Overtime at Ansell factories a ‘continual battle’
ABC News has also learned workers in Ansell’s own factories in Malaysia are working in excess of 150 hours overtime per month — when taking into account rest days and public holidays.
Under Malaysian law, public holidays and rest days are exempt from the overtime limit of 104 hours a month.
A payslip of a foreign worker at the Kulim, Kedah, factory in Malaysia operated by Ansell — seen by ABC News — shows 160 hours of overtime were worked in one month, which is out of sync with Ansell’s own guidelines on overtime.
The company said employees were not compelled to work on rest days and public holidays, and when they did it was with their consent and they were paid at double hourly rates as stipulated by law.
Workers at rubber gloves producer Top Glove say they are charged hefty recruitment fees. (Supplied)
Mr Barnes said the issue of overtime was one they were grappling with.
“One of the problems is that the people in those markets are working long hours and how do you employ and get a fair reward for them without them working long hours?,” he said.
The company wanted to see people get a proper rest, but it was “a continual battle” when people themselves chose to work overtime.
“One of the things we have to be careful of is we are applying first-world minds to second- and third-world problems,” Mr Barnes said.
“We want to be correct and proper in what we do. But we’ve got to be careful we don’t get over moralistic and put people in situations where they are unable to feed their families.”
Other suppliers also on notice
Nevertheless, the company would still seek to ensure people did get proper rest, and that appropriate policies were in place.
The overtime issue follows serious problems in previous years at Ansell’s own factories in Malaysia and Sri Lanka, including breaching labour standards, which had been identified and publicly reported.
It also comes amid Australia’s recently legislated modern slavery law.
The law requires Australian companies with annual consolidated revenue of more than $100 million — and other entities such as NGOs — to report annually on risks of slavery in their supply chains and the actions they are taking to reduce the risks.
Ansell will be reporting under the laws from this year, and by 2020 it will provide a public statement on what it uncovers in its supply chains.
“When you get an issue like this come to the surface, and certainly the modern slavery act has made everybody far more aware, you need to get in and look at the situation, and if there is a problem, to make sure that it’s rectified very quickly,” Mr Barnes said.
But even before the modern slavery laws came in, the company was working hard to eradicate problems when they were raised.
“We’ve been working with various groups who have approached us, various shareholders who want to make sure our supply chains are as clean as possible,” he said.
“We work right down our supply chains to make sure we don’t have child-labour problems, to make sure we don’t have bad treatment of workers in any of the parts of the supply chain.”