About the report
Factory temperatures of 40-50C, passports confiscated, factory fires, production line burns, cockroach infestations, 7-day working weeks, unpaid overtime, humiliation, and detainment -our In good hands report finds exploitation of workers is endemic within the medical gloves manufacturing industry.
The report highlights that this sector should be considered at high risk of labour rights abuse, but also details some of the positive changes that have occurred in the industry.
We support the notion that those who use, procure, supply, or manufacture medical gloves should instigate policies and practices to protect workers.
Background on the ethical procurement problem
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"Isn't it time we promoted the same kind of awareness of consumer behaviour and demand witnessed in other sectors?"
The manufacture of disposable gloves is a large global industry that produces about 150 billion pairs of gloves a year, with a market value of over £3 billion. Of all disposable gloves, around 85-95 per cent are used in the medical sector.
In recent years, there have been a number of audits and investigations of labour conditions across the industry which revealed endemic and serious labour rights abuse of workers in factories in Thailand, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka. This includes both factories manufacturing for small-scale medical glove suppliers, and those manufacturing for major international brands.
The initial response from some of the glove suppliers was one of denial and a failure to take these concerns seriously. Consequently, in 2015 the BMA Medical Fair and Ethical Trade Group convened a group to tackle labour rights concerns in the medical gloves industry, which included members of the European Working Group on Ethical Public Procurement (EWGEPP).
We instigated discussions with senior management at some of the major global glove brands implicated in labour rights abuse, with the aim of influencing industry response to these issues. Those involved in national or regional procurement of gloves in the UK, Sweden and Norway have since put into place requirements such that suppliers of gloves to these regions are now contractually required to evaluate and improve labour standards in their supply chains.
It can be difficult to gather a true picture of labour conditions where labour rights abuses do occur if workers feel marginalised and vulnerable. Audits of working conditions may fail to identify important concerns, and are often not geared towards identifying issues affecting migrant workers in particular, such as payment or recruitment fees. Working with trade unions or other stakeholders, such as migrant workers organisations, can provide an alternative or additional source of information.
The medical gloves industry is large in financial terms, and increasing automation means that most glove manufacture now occurs in large factories that distribute their product globally. Hence any single glove purchasing organisation or region will constitute only a small proportion of the total output of gloves from any one supplier, which may limit the power of the purchaser to effect change.
- The manufacture of medical gloves should be considered a high risk industry for labour rights abuse.
- Organisations that purchase medical gloves should put in place policies and practice that protect workers in their supply chain. Where possible, they should collaborate such efforts with other procurement organisations.
- Suppliers and manufacturers of gloves should take responsibility for establishing systems to evaluate and continually improve working conditions in manufacturing factories.
- End-users of gloves, including BMA members, should lobby organisations involved in the procurement, supply or manufacture of medical gloves to support such change.