The manufacture of disposable gloves is a large global industry that produces in the region of 150 billion pairs of glove per year, with a market value of over USD $5 billion. Disposable gloves are primarily used in the healthcare and food industries, with the leading regions of export to the USA, EU and Japan.
Factories manufacturing disposable gloves are largely found in Malaysia and Thailand, with a handful of other Asian countries, and are reliant on migrant workers.
Exposed Labour Violations
In recent years there have been a number of investigations of labour conditions in the disposable glove industry revealing endemic and serious labour rights abuse of workers in factories. These include both factories manufacturing for small glove suppliers and those manufacturing for major international brands.
Labour rights abuse in disposable glove manufacturing is regularly reported, the repercussions of which have now resulted in the US banning the import of gloves from a large Malaysian glove manufacturer, WRP Asia Pacific. Under US law, it is illegal to import goods into the US that are made wholly or in part by forced labour, which includes convict labour, indentured labour and forced or indentured child labour.
WRP’s stated mission “to generate above industry returns to our shareholders” is a race to the bottom of the lowest cost of production to satisfy shareholder and end-user demands. Worker labour exploitation is an obvious and ongoing consequence.
In 2019, WRP Asia Pacific, reported to supply the UK’s National Health Service, was taken to court for withholding the salaries of its workers in Bangladesh and Nepal, triggering a strike by 2,000 staff. After investigation, the company was found to have committed labour offences including withholding wages for three months, forced and unpaid overtime, unfair pay cuts, wrongful working hours during break and public holidays and passport confiscation. The three-day strike ended on the same day after the company agreed to pay the outstanding wages.
The BMA Medical Fair and Ethical Trade group convened to tackle labour rights abuse in the medical (disposable) gloves manufacturing industry. Their report “In Good Hands. Tackling labor rights concerns in the manufacture of medical gloves”, highlights that at present this sector should be considered at high risk of labour rights abuse.
The report also suggests that those who use, procure, supply, or manufacture medical (disposable) gloves instigate policies and practices to protect workers in the industry.
Reuters highlighted labour abuse and exploitation of workers in other Malaysian factories of a major global glove supplier. Malaysian company Top Glove is the world's largest manufacturer of disposable gloves, producing up to 60.5 billion gloves per year for health, elder care, food and industrial industries. This investigation again exposed forced labour and migrant worker exploitation throughout Top Glove’s vast network of factories.
Those involved in the supply chain for medical disposable gloves have the power, and some of the responsibility, to protect workers in their supply chain. This includes manufacturers, suppliers, purchasing organisations and end-users.
Suppliers of disposable gloves have the moral and legal obligation to source products from factories with a commitment to workers rights.
Like-minded companies boycotted the Dhaka Apparel Summit over their worker treatment issues. Companies who took part in this boycott and who represent billions of dollars in trade hope that the move highlighted the seriousness of the situation. Bangladesh relies heavily on the garment industry, which constitutes 80 percent of the country’s exports.
The Dhaka Apparel Summit was an opportunity for global partners to discuss building a more sustainable apparel supply chain and is designed to attract a wide spectrum of attendees, including government representatives, economists, brands, employers and workers' representatives.
A Glove Company Founded on Honesty and Integrity
Before the coronavirus pandemic began, New Zealand's disposable glove annual usage was 350 million gloves; a small user globally compared to the USA who used a staggering 120 billion disposable gloves a year. As the world grows increasingly familiar with masks, sanitiser and personal protective equipment (PPE), the number of gloves we use is also rocketing.
Eagle Protect sells disposable gloves and clothing to the food and medical sectors. We hold the unique industry distinction of being a certified B Corporation®. This means that Eagle Protect meets a high standard of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.
Eagle Protect’s ethos that sets us apart from other companies:
Firstly, we pride ourselves on our ethical supply chain. We visit our factories to make sure that workers are well treated and paid a fair wage. We conduct a rigorous audit assessment on a regular basis for each of our suppliers, making sure they pass SMETA and our Supplier Code of Conduct as well as other independent audits. This ensures the environmental and social impacts of production are assessed and to ensure no one is exploited.
- Secondly, Eagle Protect prioritises food & medical safety. It is important that customers understand where gloves come from, the materials they are made from, and the hygiene standards the gloves meet. Shockingly, there are very few safety checks on gloves entering New Zealand. We should really treat gloves with the attention and respect that we would a knife or a kitchen surface; all three things come into direct contact with the food we consume or directly touches a patient/ client.
Eagle has partnered with FDA award-winning supply chain traceability platform Rfider, to revolutionise the glove industry by capturing, securing and sharing all activity across Eagle's supply chain, from manufacturer to customer. We have started trailing this with a range of our US gloves.
- Finally, Eagle Protect aims to limit the environmental impact of disposable gloves, finding better quality raw materials and improving glove design to reduce product failure and waste. Click below to see Eagle's latest environmental and social impact report.
Listen to this Great.com interview with Steve Ardagh, CEO of Eagle Protect™ to find out more about how Eagle Protect is leading our industry in a positive environmental impact and to learn what the future might hold for the health and food sectors. This series, 'Great.com Talks with' is an antidote to negative news stories that aims to shed light on organisations and experts whose work is making a positive impact on the world.
Visiting Our Factories
If the 2017 New Zealand, Mycoplasma Bovis scare has taught us anything, it’s the critical importance of traceability. For those in the Dairy and Beef farming sectors, the ability to accurately track animal movements (or not) has been critical to the management and hopefully eventual eradication of the M. Bovis disease. Similarly, given our position as a major supplier to the New Zealand Dairy Processing and Red Meat industries, we have a firm view that sourcing our products should also be transparent and monitored. Visiting our factories on a regular basis allows us to check product manufacturing standards, quality controls, worker conditions and their environmental impact.
Mike Taylors, Strategic & Sales Manager, visit to Thailand & China, was to visit the manufacturers of our disposable clothing and nitrile disposable gloves, for our global food processing & medical industry customers.
Both the factories visited were accredited to the widely respected quality management systems ISO 9001 and EN ISO 13485 for medical devices. However, it was readily apparent that in addition to these ‘formal’ accreditations, both suppliers were being rigorously and regularly reviewed by their global customers to a variety of more holistic measures including, legal compliance, health and safety, sustainability and ethical sourcing; all key criteria of our Supplier Code of Conduct and in which both factories scored highly.
Your Brand Could Be At Risk
As the majority of the production of Top Glove and WRP products are for major global brands, labour rights issues can be hidden. Your company’s reputation could be affected.
Knowledge and proof of supply chain transparency in the product that protects your hands, product and brand should be demanded. Ensuring glove suppliers personally visit factories and regularly audit labour conditions, environmental impact and quality control are essential to combat labour abuse. Additionally, third-party verification by recognised organisations such as Sedex is a further commitment to transparency in suppliers' supply chains.
Users of disposable gloves also have the power to affect change in this industry, questioning suppliers and demanding transparency in the supply chain of disposable glove manufacturing.
The world is becoming a more transparent place and consumers and businesses have the power to change supply chain violations with their purchasing. Don’t put your brand reputation at risk, partner with a fully transparent disposable glove supplier. Ask for first-hand proof of this from your glove supplier.
We are committed to transparency in our supply chain and are endeavouring to partner with businesses that care enough about their products, their reputation, their staff and their customers, by sourcing their disposable glove and clothing responsibly. Why not choose a supplier like Eagle Protect for your disposable goods. Visit our online store for a wide range of product to suit your business needs or chat to our experts today.