Ex-workers at Malaysian supplier sue Kimberly-Clark and Ansell over labor abuse allegations

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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 10 (Reuters) – Former employees of Malaysian rubber glove maker Brightway Holdings have filed a lawsuit in the United States against Kimberly-Clark Corp (KMB.N) and Ansell Ltd (ANN.AX), the accusing him of “knowingly profiting” from the supplier’s alleged use of forced labor, according to the complaint seen by Reuters.

The workers – all Bangladeshi citizens – say Kimberly-Clark and Ansell knew about the alleged labor abuses through public reports on Brightway and other Malaysian glove makers, and violations found by labor audits, according to the complaint filed Tuesday evening in the United States. .

Kimberly-Clark said the lawsuit was “completely without merit.”

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“Kimberly-Clark opposes all forms of forced labor and we are committed to ensuring that all workers in our supply chain are treated humanely and in accordance with our labor and human rights standards. ‘man,” he said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

Ansell and Brightway said they had no immediate comment.

Malaysia, which depends on millions of migrant workers from South Asian countries, has faced allegations of exploitation in key export-oriented industries over the years. Eight Malaysian companies, including six glove makers, have been banned by the United States in the past three years.

In the lawsuit filed Tuesday night in the United States, the 13 former Brightway workers claim they paid high recruiting fees to intermediaries that resulted in debt bondage, worked long hours with little or no days off and s to have their passport confiscated by the company.

They are seeking damages from Kimberly-Clark, a US personal care company that owns the Kleenex brand, and Australian personal protective equipment supplier Ansell in federal court for the District of Columbia.

“These companies cannot deny that they knew of the forced labor at Brightway,” said Terrence Collingsworth, an International Rights Advocates lawyer representing the workers.

Collingsworth said he initially offered to mediate with Kimberly-Clark and Ansell to seek compensation for the workers, but both companies declined.

The United States banned Brightway products from entering the country in December 2021 due to alleged forced labor practices, saying it had found 10 of the International Labor Organization’s 11 forced labor indicators. Read more

The allegations of misconduct at Brightway had been public for at least a year prior.

In December 2020, Malaysian officials found Brightway workers living in shipping containers, and a minister compared the squalid conditions to “modern slavery” after a raid.

Reuters reported in May 2021 that Brightway’s labor audits detailed 61 violations of global ethical standards and 50 violations of Malaysian labor laws, although auditors concluded they did not find forced labor. Read more

Ansell told Reuters at the time that the audits, when inspected, “unveiled several non-compliances with labor standards”.

The two companies went on to say that Brightway had fixed some of those issues since the government raid in December.

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

Andy Hall, an independent labor activist who investigated Brightway, said factories shouldn’t be the only players penalized for breaching labor rights.

“Brands and buyers are failing to deliver on their stated commitments to conduct more adequate due diligence to prevent modern slavery conditions… We also need adequate redress from them, as well as investors and buyers public,” Hall said.

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Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Mark Potter

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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