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Ex-workers at Malaysia's Brightway sue Kimberly-Clark, Ansell over alleged labour abuse

Ex-workers at Malaysia's Brightway sue Kimberly-Clark, Ansell over alleged labour abuse

File photo of rubber gloves. (Photo: iStock/Edwin Tan)

KUALA LUMPUR: Migrant workers at Malaysian glove maker Brightway Holdings filed a lawsuit in the United States against Kimberly-Clark Corp and Ansell Ltd, accusing them of "knowingly profiting" from the alleged use of forced labour at the supplier, according to the complaint seen by Reuters.

In the suit, filed late on Tuesday (Aug 9) in the United States, 13 former workers claimed damages from US personal care company Kimberly-Clark and Australian personal protective equipment supplier Ansell in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia.

According to the complaint, the workers paid high recruitment fees to middlemen, worked long hours with few or no rest days, had their passports taken by the company.

The complaint says public reports on Brightway and other Malaysian glove makers, and violations found by labour audits, were evidence of the two companies' knowledge of the alleged abuses.

Kimberly-Clark did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside of regular US business hours.

Ansell and Brightway said they did not have an immediate comment.

"These companies cannot deny that they had knowledge of forced labour at Brightway," said Terrence Collingsworth, a lawyer from International Rights Advocates representing the workers.

Collingsworth said that before filing the lawsuit, he had proposed mediation with Kimberly-Clark and Ansell to obtain compensation for the workers, but both companies declined.

The United States banned Brightway products from entering the country in December 2021 over suspected forced labour practices, saying it had found 10 of 11 International Labour Organization indicators of forced labour.

Allegations of misconduct at Brightway had been public for at least a year before that.

In December 2020, Malaysian officials found Brightway workers living in shipping containers, and a minister likened the squalid conditions as "modern slavery" after a raid.

Reuters reported in May 2021 that labour audits of Brightway had detailed 61 violations of global ethical standards and 50 violations of Malaysian labour laws, even though the auditors concluded that they did not find forced labour.

Ansell told Reuters at the time that the audits, when it inspected them, had "revealed several non-compliances with labour standards".

Both companies then said Brightway had fixed some of these problems since the government raid in December.

Buyers such as Kimberly-Clark and Ansell use labour audits to monitor their supply chain.

Source: Reuters/ta

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