Working conditions improve at medical glove manufacturer’s Malaysian factory
Kuva: Lori Greig, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
In October 2015, Finnwatch reported on the working conditions at Ansell's Malaysia-based medical glove factory. In summer 2015, Socialt Ansvarstagande i Offentlig Upphandling, an organisation focused on socially responsible procurement by Sweden's municipalities, commissioned an audit of Ansell's medical glove factory located in the state of Malacca.
The findings described in the audit report were alarming: the movement of workers was restricted, the factory confiscated migrant workers' passports, employment contracts required workers to put in compulsory overtime, and workers were not permitted to resign from the factory until their fixed-term contract came to an end. Additionally, the factory made deductions from workers' salaries to pay back loans workers had been forced to take out to pay the company responsible for recruitment.
Australian corporation Ansell's gloves are marketed in Finland by Berner Medical, which is a division of Berner Ltd.'s subsidiary Bröderna Berner Handels AB.
Finnwatch engaged in dialogue with Ansell's representatives in Helsinki and London after the report was published. Ansell said it had immediately taken steps to improve working conditions at its factory and had launched a corporate social responsibility programme that applies to the entire group. Ansell joined BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) for assistance in developing a strategy and governance structure. Ansell also joined Sedex, an information exchange database that focuses on the responsibility of suppliers.
New audit demonstrates changes to payment of recruitment fees, overtime work remains unchanged
In January 2016, a new audit was carried out at the Ansell factory, the purpose of which was to ascertain whether the factory had implemented corrective measures. Ansell supplied the audit report and its appendices to Finnwatch. Finnwatch also asked for copies of updated employment contracts for workers from Myanmar and Indonesia.
According to the audit report, the factory's working conditions had improved in many ways. The factory has carried out measures such as removing a clause on compulsory overtime work from its employment contract and returning passports to its migrant workers. The most significant reforms implemented by the factory include making a decision to pay recruitment fees themselves and putting an end to deductions from workers’ salaries. It is now also possible for migrant workers to resign from their job at the factory before their fixed-term contract comes to an end by giving 30 days’ notice. Ansell's updated employment contract no longer forbids migrant workers from joining trade unions.
There are nonetheless still problems. For example, the amount of overtime put in at the factory is massive. Migrant workers are regularly asked to put in up to 104 hours of overtime each month. According to Ansell, a doctor has been made available to conduct stress tests for its workers in accordance with the auditor’s recommendation.
This seems like a strange measure, as the only reasonable solution would be to cut back on the extensive amount of overtime put in by workers. According to Ansell, its long-term objective is to decrease the amount of overtime but this has been difficult because Malaysia had frozen the recruitment of all foreign workers, and the factory is experiencing difficulties in finding enough local workers. The recruitment of foreign workers in Malaysia has recently resumed and Ansell continues to look to employ both local Malaysian and foreign workers.
Ansell also updated employment contracts to reflect the new policies. The contracts are written in both English and local language. A third party translated these contracts into local language and upon review by Finnwatch, a few of the translations from the English to Burmese version were incorrect. Ansell immediately had the third party make the corrections after discovery.
Employment contracts of migrant workers still contained unpleasant surprises – translation corrected after errors were pointed out
Finnwatch examined the updated Burmese language employment contract supplied by Ansell and found that it contained clauses on matters not mentioned in the newest audit report or which the company had promised to correct. The employment contract was written in both English and Burmese. Unlike the English version of the contract, the Burmese version did not promise workers a salary triple that of their normal pay for overtime on national holidays. The Burmese version of the contract also forbids workers from marrying Malaysian citizens and states that pregnant workers will be dismissed.
According to the company, the English version of the contract is correct. Ansell corrected the Burmese contract to correspond with the English version.
International buyers included in dialogue
Finnwatch has monitored the responsibility of gloves used in the health care sector since 2012. During this time, public buyers have become internationally active in demanding accountability for human rights from international corporations that manufacture medical gloves.
In spring 2016, the British Medical Association published a paper on the social corporate responsibility of medical gloves that was partly based on Finnwatch's research and organised a roundtable with Ansell and Austrian corporation Semperit. Finnwatch has actively participated in discussion within the European Working Group on Ethical Public Procurement (EWGEPP) and will continue to monitor the working conditions of glove factories.
Increasing the social responsibility of public procurements would now also be possible in Finland as the comprehensive reform of the Public Procurement Act has been submitted to parliament. Finnwatch has drafted a list of recommendations that aim to increase the social and economic sustainability of procurements financed with tax funds.