Malaysia's Top Glove defends its record on worker welfare

Company says it has spent over $6m to improve housing for its factory workers in last 2 months

Top Glove workers waiting in line for food distribution outside a hostel in Klang, Selangor, last week. The government on Monday said the company must shut 28 of its Malaysian factory buildings in stages to allow for health checks, with more than 4,0
Top Glove workers waiting in line for food distribution outside a hostel in Klang, Selangor, last week. The government on Monday said the company must shut 28 of its Malaysian factory buildings in stages to allow for health checks, with more than 4,000 Covid-19 cases already detected among workers and close contacts. PHOTO: REUTERS

Malaysia's Top Glove yesterday defended its record on worker welfare, saying it has spent RM20 million (S$6.6 million) to improve accommodation for its factory workers in the last two months, as a major Covid-19 outbreak at its Selangor factories and dormitories puts it under the spotlight.

Top Glove executive chairman and founder Lim Wee Chai denied allegations by Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan that housing facilities for its workers are "terrible".

Tan Sri Lim told a virtual news conference that the minister had visited the dormitories several months ago and indicated that they were fine, and that he does not know what is "different" now.

Mr Lim added that the housing conditions had "continued to improve", and welcomed another visit by Datuk Seri Saravanan.

Top Glove has around 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 Selangor's Klang district, as the plants operate 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, with more than 4,000 Covid-19 cases already detected among workers and close contacts.

Mr Lim, 62, whose wealth is estimated by Forbes at US$4.2 billion (S$5.64 billion) after the company's value multiplied by at least six times this year, said his workers have been moved to better accommodation.

The minimum requirement of space and toilets for workers had been adhered to, he added.

The company's premises also have their own facilities - including ATMs, barber shops, mini-markets, canteens and gymnasiums - to reduce the need for workers to go out.

Mr Lim added that he encourages his workers to follow good health and hygiene practices - such as showering twice a day, drinking at least eight glasses of water, exercising and sleeping well.

"We ask them to eat well, eat more healthily, eat more vegetables, maintain a balanced diet and drink more water.

"We also subsidise vegetarian meals for them. We have been doing this for some time."

The company said yesterday that not all the Covid-19 cases came from its factories.

The Human Resources Ministry has said it will enforce minimum housing standards for migrant workers' dormitories beginning today.

The plant closures - which are being done in stages - will cause a two-week delay in deliveries, Mr Lim said, but he added that Top Glove has other plants outside the country which have not been affected.

Mr Lim said he hopes the factories in Klang will be reopened in two to three weeks.

He also assured the public that there was no risk of Covid-19 contamination from the company's 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.

"There is no contamination… (gloves are placed into) hot ovens at 110 deg C, so the virus cannot survive there," said Mr Lim.

"Our factory employees wear PPE, so there is no direct contact with gloves."

Malaysia makes just under two-thirds of the world's medical rubber gloves, but the manufacturers' association assured the public that supply would not be disrupted.

"Be assured that new capacity is available to make good the interim shortfall and 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 yesterday.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2020, with the headline 'Top Glove defends its record on worker welfare'. Print Edition | Subscribe