The response to the COVID-19 pandemic is increasing the suffering of thousands, a new report into labour rights violations suggests.
Published on 18 March 2020, the UK government’s Modern Slavery Statement features a promise by Boris Johnson to ‘take active steps to drive this increasingly pervasive evil out of our supply chains’.
But in an investigation considering the UK’s use of personal protective equipment, Jane Feinmann explores allegations of abuse surrounding the production of surgical instruments and medical gloves.
Mahmood Bhutta, a consultant in ear, nose, and throat surgery at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, founded the Medical Fair and Ethical Trade Group in 2006.
He said he feels ‘ashamed as a doctor to be wearing gloves manufactured using human exploitation’.
He suggests that lessons should be learnt from the PPE supply struggles amid the coronavirus chaos.
‘We’ve learnt how reliant we are on manufacturers overseas and how precarious our supply chains can be,’ he said.
‘By offering a fair price and asking suppliers to show respect for workers, backed by financial or contractual rewards, we can develop long term mutually beneficial relationships.’
No mention of forced labour concerns
Feinmann’s report for The BMJ shows that findings have emerged revealing the temporary reduction in glove production in Malaysian factories, which is included in the national lockdown, has now been reversed.
And she points out that lobbying made by the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association in March was supported by the UK and the EU – although there appears to be no mention of forced labour concerns.
Migrant worker specialist Andy Hall said demands to end forced labour are not being made within the medical trade.
As an alternative to sanctions, he proposes a different approach. ‘A better response is for organisations to reward or benefit suppliers demonstrating good working conditions,’ he said.
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