Coronavirus Healthcare & Coronavirus Hospitals & COVID-19 NHS & COVID-19

Surgical gloves manufacturer shuts factories due to coronavirus outbreak

Surgical gloves manufacturer shuts factories due to coronavirus outbreak

Malaysian firm Top Glove, the world’s largest surgical gloves manufacturer, has closed its factories due to an outbreak of coronavirus at multiple locations. Top Glove operates 40 factories across the country and is responsible for manufacturing fully one in every five of the world’s surgical gloves. The closure of its factories will inevitably impact the availability of PPE across the world.

The origins of the outbreak

Top Glove has now halted operations after the Malaysian Health Ministry reported a particularly high number of coronavirus cases occurring in areas where Top Glove staff lived and worked. As of mid-November, Top Glove had tested 5,767 workers for Coronavirus, with 2,453 being found to have the virus, a staggering 42.5% of all those tested.

The extremely high infection rates saw Top Glove quickly moving to halt production entirely at 16 of its factories, with a further 12 operating at a much-reduced rate. This has resulted in the surgical gloves manufacturer’s production rates falling by approximately 50% at a time when international demand for PPE supplies is unprecedentedly high.

Claims of unsafe working conditions

It has been claimed that Top Glove’s factories have been employing workers to work in unsafe conditions for extremely long hours. The company’s factories employ more than 11,000 workers, many of whom are economic migrants from poor countries, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal.

Poor working conditions at Top Glove factories have been reported on by the international media as long ago as 2018. An investigation by the UK’s Channel 4 found that migrant workers at Top Gloves factories were being paid just $2 per hour to work 12 hour shifts six days a week.

The coronavirus crisis appears to be seeing working conditions go from bad to worse, as ABC News has reported that the company is pushing an initiative called ‘Heroes for COVID-19’. This initiative which has seen workers encouraged to spend up to four hours per day, making yet more rubber gloves on their days off, leading to employees reportedly working as many as 30 days in a row without a break.

Surgical Gloves manufacturer’s response

The surgical gloves manufacturer continues to deny all allegations of unsafe working conditions at their factories. No Top Glove executive has yet commented on the likely impact of factory closures, either for the company of those who depend on receiving its goods.

What could this do to surgical gloves supply chains?

The closure of multiple Top Glove factories is likely to have a knock-on effect on global PPE supply chains. Malaysia produces 60% of the world’s rubber, and Top Glove is the main surgical glove manufacturer in the country. With its production lines heavily impacted by the recent outbreaks of coronavirus at its factories, companies across the world could find themselves struggling to source adequate amounts of necessary surgical gloves.

What does this mean for the NHS?

Unfortunately, the NHS is unlikely to be spared, as it has previously emerged that Top Glove is one of the companies supplying NHS glove supply, the organisation that supplies 40% of NHS nitrile gloves, surgical gloves and other PPE to hospitals and clinics across the UK.

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