BMA report

In good hands - Tackling labour rights concerns in the manufacture of medical gloves

Exploitation of workers is endemic within the medical gloves manufacturing industry. Read our report and recommendations for improvement.
Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Friday 1 May 2020
Globe symbol article illustration

Our report finds exploitation of workers is endemic within the medical gloves manufacturing industry. It highlights that, while the sector should be considered at high risk of labour rights abuses, there are positive changes that have occurred.

We support the notion that those who use, procure, supply, or manufacture medical gloves should instigate policies and practices to protect workers. 

 

What you'll get from this report

  • Background to the labour rights risks in the surgical gloves industry.
  • Findings from our discussions with major brands on labour rights and working conditions in the manufacture of surgical gloves.
  • Recommendations for driving improvements in the sector.​​

Key findings

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 EWGEPP (European Working Group on Ethical Public Procurement).

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.

 

Challenges

  • It can be difficult to gather a true picture of labour conditions where labour rights abuses do occur, especially 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

 

Recommendations

  • Organisations that purchase medical gloves should put in place policies and practices 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.

Topics
  • Introduction and executive summary
  • The disposable gloves industry
  • Medical glove materials
  • Glove manufacturing processes
  • General labour rights concerns in Malaysia, Thailand, and Sri-Lanka
  • Labour rights abuse in medical glove manufacture
  • Labour rights concerns in the harvesting of latex
  • Response from procurement organisations
  • Response from suppliers
  • Discussion
  • Recommendations