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COVID-19 Outbreak Forces World’s Largest Medical Glove Maker To Shutter Factories

Top Glove, the world’s largest manufacturer of medical latex gloves, has closed and reduced capacity at more than two dozen factories in Malaysia after 42% of the 5,767 workers it screened for COVID-19 tested positive.

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The company’s 2,524 positive cases are almost entirely foreign-born factory workers, Malaysia’s Director-General of Health Noor Hisham Abdullah said Monday.

That figure will likely rise as an additional 1,913 people are still awaiting results. The country’s health ministry plans to test around 13,000 people across the 28 manufacturing facilities affected by the government-ordered factory shutdowns, which began last Tuesday.

Military personnel install barbed wire around the Top Glove worker’s hostel in Klang, Malaysia, on Nov. 17.

Most of the 5,700 affected workers live in company dormitories in the city of Meru, roughly 25 miles west of Kuala Lumpur. Top Glove’s labor practices have come under scrutiny as the global pandemic triggered unprecedented demand and led to soaring profits.

In July, U.S. Customs and Border Protection banned imports from two of the company’s subsidiaries, accusing them of using forced foreign labor to manufacture gloves.

In the arrangement, foreign workers are typically charged various fees to land jobs in Malaysia, then are confined to cramped company dorms (paid for via another fee) and factories while they work to pay off the debt.

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In this Aug. 26 file photo, a worker inspects disposable gloves at the Top Glove factory in Shah Alam on the outskirts of Kua

In this Aug. 26 file photo, a worker inspects disposable gloves at the Top Glove factory in Shah Alam on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Top Glove started making remediation payments to migrant workers in August, seeking to resolve the matter.

“We have completed full screening of about 5,700 workers at our hostels,” Top Glove said in a release Monday. “We are committed to proceed with the [health ministry’s recommended COVID-19 screening test of the balance [of] workers and staff at our factories in Meru, Klang.”

The 5,700 affected workers represents more than a quarter of Top Glove’s global workforce.

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