UK facing legal action for working with PPE manufacturer accused of labor violations
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UK facing legal action for working with PPE manufacturer accused of labor violations

The UK High Court Wednesday allowed a case against the UK government for its continued use of the PPE manufacturer Supermax to go forward. All the Citizens, represented by UK law firm, Wilson Solicitors, is suing the government for continuing its relationship with the Malaysian company, despite an investigation uncovering allegations of forced labor in Supermax’ factories.

In December 2021, the UK awarded a contract to Supermax to supply the National Health Service (NHS) with disposable gloves. The decision was met with derision as it came after a November bombshell investigation by the US Customs and Border Patrol (CPB), which found at least 10 of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) forced labor indicators in Supermax’ manufacturing process. The CPB accused Supermax of abusing its Nepalese migrant workers including alleged violations such as, “inhumane working conditions…, isolation, restriction of movement, withholding of wages, excessive overtime, and more. The CPB then made the decision to ban further imports from the company with the Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, stating, “[w]ith this Withhold Release Order, the Biden-Harris Administration continues to make clear that products made in whole or in part by forced labor will not be allowed into the United States.”

This was followed by a temporary hold on Supermax’s future contracts in Canada, though two contracts were initially maintained, pending an investigation by an independent firm, hired by Supermax. The government later canceled its current contracts with Supermax, stating, “[b]ased on the seriousness of the allegations and expected timelines for the final audit results, the Government of Canada and Supermax Healthcare Canada have decided to terminate the two existing contracts for the supply of nitrile gloves.” Supermax is still eligible to apply for future contracts with the Canadian government.

Supermax released its initial findings from the investigation, as well as updates it planned to make to its employment policy, saying:

The Company is making significant changes to improve benefits, facilities and living conditions provided to Supermax workers. Several measures to improve working and living conditions are currently in progress, which includes major refurbishment to its hostel facilities that will provide workers with adequate privacy. New facilities to improve leisure and lifestyle elements of workers have also been added to the Company’s existing modern dormitory. … Workers will soon get to enjoy the new added facilities which will include a designated smoking area, ATM facilities, canteen and dining improvements, and other amenities.

According to Amnesty International, Supermax is just one of many companies taking advantage of Nepalese immigrant workers. James Lynch, the Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Global Issues Programme, said, “Nepali migrant workers are being systematically and mercilessly set up. Forced to take out loans to pay the huge fees recruitment agencies charge them to work abroad, they are left so indebted that they have no choice but to stay in jobs which often turn out to be low-paid or dangerous.”