KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Top Glove on Wednesday (Nov 25) defended its record with worker welfare, saying it spent RM20 million (S$6.6 million) to improve accommodation for its factory workers in the last two months.
The company is under the spotlight on how it houses the workers following a major Covid-19 outbreak at its Selangor factories and dormitories.
Top Glove executive chairman and founder Lim Wee Chai denied allegations by Human Resource Minister M. Saravanan that housing facilities for its workers are "terrible".
He said the minister visited the dormitories several months ago and indicated these were fine. "We do not know why he said it differently now."
"We welcome him to visit us again, because since the minister's visit, our (housing) conditions have continued to improve. So it came as a big surprise when such comments were made," Tan Sri Lim said
Top Glove has about 21,000 employees globally, with about 11,000 in Malaysia. Some 5,900 of the Malaysia-based workers live in the company's premises in Meru, in Klang district, Selangor, with the plants operating round the clock.
The world's biggest maker of rubber gloves runs 47 plants in Malaysia, Thailand, China and Vietnam, with 36 of them producing gloves. The company also makes other personal protective equipment (PPE) including face masks.
The government on Monday said Top Glove must shut 28 of its Malaysian factory buildings in stages to allow for health checks of the workers, with more than 4,000 Covid-19 cases already detected among the workers and their close contacts.
Mr Lim, 62, whose wealth was estimated by Forbes at US$4.2 billion (S$5.6 billion) after the company's share value multiplied by at least six times this year, said his workers had been moved to better accommodation.
The minimum requirement of space and toilets for workers had been adhered to, he said. The company's premises also had its own facilities including ATMs, barbers, mini markets, canteens and gymnasiums to reduce the need for workers to go out.
Mr Lim said he encouraged his workers to practice health and hygiene measures such as to shower twice a day, drink at least eight glasses of water a day, exercise and sleep well.
"We ask them to eat well, eat more healthily, and eat more vegetables, a balanced diet, drink more water. We also subsidise vegetarian meals for them. We have been doing this for some time," he said.
Top Glove said on Wednesday that not all the Covid-19 cases came from its factories.
Following the outbreak, the Human Resources Ministry will enforce minimum housing standards for migrant workers' dormitories beginning Thursday (Nov 26).
The plant closures, which is being done in stages, would cause a two-week delay in deliveries, Mr Lim, said, but added that he has other plants outside the country which haven't been affected.
Mr Lim said he hoped the factories in Klang would reopen in two to three weeks.
He also assured users that there was no risk of Covid-19 contamination from his products, as the production line is fully automated, and there is no direct contact between workers and the gloves, which are also sanitised before being packed.
"The answer is no contamination… (gloves are placed into) the hot ovens at 110 degree Celsius, so the Covid-19 virus cannot survive there," said Mr Lim in reply to a question.
"Our factory employees wear PPE so there is no direct contact with gloves," said the tycoon, who started the company 29 years ago.
Malaysia makes just under two-thirds of the world's medical rubber gloves, but the manufacturers' association assured that supply will not be disrupted.
"Be assured that new capacity is available to make good the interim shortfall and that there is not going to be any aggravated disruption to whatever is currently being supplied to the world," the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association said on Wednesday.