BlackRock raps board of Malaysian firm Top Glove over worker safety

Image from Top Glove's media kit.

The board of directors of Malaysian firm Top Glove Corp, the world’s largest maker of medical grade gloves, has failed egregiously in protecting its workers from COVID-19, U.S. investor BlackRock said, calling for its removal.

The comments from the world’s biggest asset manager come after Top Glove saw an extensive coronavirus outbreak among its workers late last year. More than 5,000 foreign workers were infected and one died in what became Malaysia’s biggest cluster.

Reuters reported last month that Top Glove fired a whistleblower who raised concern about the firm’s lack of COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Workers have also told Reuters that they lived in crowded dormitories.

BlackRock cited workers’ accounts of working and living conditions, the firing of the whistleblower and the virus cluster at Top Glove in its criticism of the board. It also voted against re-electing six board members at Top Glove‘s annual general meeting on Wednesday.

“We view the board‘s ineffectiveness in COVID-19 mitigation and inadequate oversight of worker health and safety issues as especially egregious with potentially serious implications for its reputation as a supplier of such equipment to hospitals around the world,” BlackRock said in a statement late on Wednesday.

Top Glove did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company has acknowledged that much more needs to be done to raise the standard of employee welfare and has promised to rectify shortcomings quickly.

A BlackRock unit, BlackRock Institutional Trust Co, is the tenth biggest shareholder in Top Glove, holding 1.07% of its shares.

The U.S. firm said it intended to hold other incumbent directors accountable by voting against their re-election at future meetings.

An influential Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, managed by Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), also voted against their re-election, according to voting records published by NBIM on its website.

The fund, which owns 0.84% of Top Glove shares, declined to comment on worker safety concerns.

The board members were re-elected despite the objections.

BlackRock‘s comments were the first public criticism of Top Glove from an investor since the virus outbreak among workers.

The company posted record profits last year as demand for its gloves soared due to the pandemic. Its share price more than tripled in 2020.

In July, the United States banned two units of Top Glove over forced labour allegations. Malaysian authorities plan to charge the company over poor worker accommodation.

BlackRock said the living conditions described by the workers, U.S. and Malaysian authorities were in “stark contrast” to what the board conveyed to shareholders.

Top Glove‘s factories, some of which were closed due to the virus outbreak, reopened last month.

Reuters

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In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

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  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.