Leading rubber glove maker has struggled to shake off concerns about its labour practices Malaysia produces up to two-thirds of the world’s rubber gloves with Top Glove alone claiming a 26% market share © Samsul Said/Bloomberg
In a meeting room on the 21st floor of Top Glove Tower, the Malaysian headquarters of the world’s biggest rubber glove maker, two employees demonstrated the new company chant.
“Thumbs up, ready, one, two, three,” they said. “Clean well, eat well, work well, exercise well, sleep well. Healthy! Healthy! Healthy!”
In the 23-storey glass-fronted complex just outside Kuala Lumpur, staff are only allowed vegetarian food in the canteen and are “encouraged” to visit the in-house gym before or after work, a public relations employee told the Financial Times during a tour. Like other workers, she wore a badge that read: “Corruption and bribery is a crime. Be honest. No cheating.”
Top Glove, which has in recent years suffered its own reputational crisis, has a strong incentive to convince outsiders that it is committed to employee welfare and business ethics.
Until the Covid-19 pandemic, the group had quietly led a national industry that produced up to two-thirds of the world’s rubber gloves. Top Glove alone claims a 26 per cent market share.
Then, soaring demand for personal protective equipment drew international attention to the sector. Top Glove was hit with allegations of forced labour in its factories, leading to a US ban on its products. Similar bans have since been placed on three other groups.
This outsider is left unconvinced.
Why is this wealthy company approaching its own well-publicised failures in terms of employee welfare by bullying and infantilising its workers further, treating them like CCP army recruits ?
Why should employees be asked to chant like children, be told what they can’t eat and herded into the gym (does the company keep a star chart)?
Of course, there is much to be said for encouragement and information on the subject of good health. However, in the case of Top Glove the publicised failings have been glaringly in the category of management, work practices and conditions not sloppy staff attitudes. No one has complained about the quality of Top Glove products.
As for corruption and bribery, what opportunities does a low paid migrant worker have to engage in such practices compared to company managers and directors, for example, who must daily be tempted to grease palms to gain business advantages and contracts?
So, instead of harassing workers for PR purposes these managers should concentrate on performing their duty of making sure their lives are tolerable (even enjoyable if possible?) and their conditions and remuneration at the very least fair.
To keep their minds on that duty it would be no bad thing for these managers to themselves perform their own chants outside the factory every morning, because it is they who need reminded to keep healthy in their minds, bodies and actions.
Leading by example not dictat is the way to reform.