Cleveland, Ohio — The world's largest rubber glove manufacturer is claiming to have resolved nearly a dozen allegations involving forced labor in an attempt to resume shipments to the U.S.
This follows seizure of about 4 million Top Glove Corp. nitrile rubber gloves at a port in Cleveland by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents earlier this month.
Top Glove, in a May 5 statement, said it "continues to work closely" with the U.S. CBP and an April 22 report by independent consultant Impactt Ltd. proves the company previously resolved 11 indicators of forced labor.
"The U.S. CBP is currently reviewing Top Glove's submission on the back of the company having remediated 11 International Labour Organization's forced labor indicators," Top Glove said in a statement.
It was May 4 that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol seized a shipment of 3.97 million disposable nitrile gloves at Cleveland's port. Agency personnel took the gloves, valued at $518,000, in response to a March 29 order by CBP.
"This seizure sends a strong message that CBP will not tolerate imports made by forced labor, which is a form of modern slavery that hurts vulnerable workers and threatens our economy," Diann Rodriguez, area port director in Cleveland, said in a statement. "CBP continues to facilitate the importation of legitimate PPE needed for the COVID-19 pandemic while ensuring that the PPE is authorized and safe for use."
CBP could not be reached for additional comments, but did provide some details in a news release.
"The shipment in Cleveland was seized after an inspection by CBP officers revealed that the gloves were produced in Malaysia by a subsidiary of Top Glove," the agency said. Top Glove is based in Shah Alam, Malaysia.
Treatment of Top Glove employees became a focus after CBP issued a finding "based on evidence of multiple forced labor indicators in Top Glove's production process, including debt bondage, excessive overtime, abusive working and living conditions, and retention of identity documents."
But Top Glove said it has addressed these issues and pointed to the Impactt report as proof. "It is Impactt's opinion that Top Glove has eliminated all indicators of systemic forced labor in its direct operations," a summary from Impactt said.
Impactt reviewed actions undertaken by Top Glove in October 2020, January 2021 and April 2021.
"We confirm that we have verified the repayment of recruitment fees to date totaling over ($36.3 million) to 12,672 current and eligible former workers," Impact states. The amount was repaid to workers between August 2020 and April 2021.
These fees were paid to third party recruitment agencies that placed workers at Top Glove facilities.
Impactt identified a total of 11 indicators of forced labor during an investigation completed in August 2020, including abuse of vulnerability, retention of identity documents, restriction of movement, excessive overtime, abusive working and living conditions and deception. Other indicators are isolation, debt bondage, withholding of wages, physical and sexual violence and intimidation.
The group verified the company rectified each area by April 2021, according to a chart provided by Top Glove.
Top Glove, when reached for comment via email, said May 12 the latest information available from the company is the May 5 statement that outlined progress on the 11 forced labor indicators and referenced its continuing work with CBP.
News of the Cleveland seizure follows CBP's determination in March that the agency would seize any gloves coming into the U.S. after its own months-long investigation.
"CBP has taken steps to ensure that this targeted enforcement action against Top Glove will not have a significant impact on total U.S. imports of disposable gloves," John Leonard, CBP acting executive assistant commissioner for trade, said at the time.
"We continue to work with our interagency partners to ensure that the personal protective equipment, medical devices and pharmaceuticals needed for the COVID-19 response are cleared for entry as expeditiously as possible while verifying that those goods are authorized and safe for use," he continued.
The March ruling followed a previous determination in July by the U.S. agency that forced labor indicators exist at Top Glove.