Ex-workers at Malaysian supplier sue Kimberly-Clark, Ansell over alleged labour abuse

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Kimberly-Clark said the lawsuit was "completely without merit." "Kimberly-Clark stands against all forms of forced labour and we are committed to ensuring that all workers within our supply chain are treated with humanity and in accordance with our workplace and human rights standards," it said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

KUALA LUMPUR: Former workers at Malaysian rubber glove maker Brightway Holdings filed a lawsuit in the United States against Kimberly-Clark Corp KMB.N and Ansell Ltd ANN.AX, accusing them of "knowingly profiting" from the alleged use of forced labour at the supplier, according to the complaint seen by Reuters.

The workers - all Bangladeshi citizens - say Kimberly-Clark and Ansell were aware of the alleged labour abuses through public reports on Brightway and other Malaysian glove makers, and violations found by labour audits, according to the complaint filed late on Tuesday in the United States.

Kimberly-Clark said the lawsuit was "completely without merit."

"Kimberly-Clark stands against all forms of forced labour and we are committed to ensuring that all workers within our supply chain are treated with humanity and in accordance with our workplace and human rights standards," it said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

Ansell and Brightway said they did not have an immediate comment.

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

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In the lawsuit filed late on Tuesday in the United States, the 13 former Brightway workers say they paid high recruitment fees to middlemen that resulted in debt bondage, worked long hours with few or no rest days, and had their passports taken by the company.

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

"These companies cannot deny that they had knowledge of forced labour at Brightway," said Terrence Collingsworth, a lawyer from International Rights Advocates representing the workers.

Collingsworth said he had first proposed mediation with Kimberly-Clark and Ansell to obtain compensation for the workers, but both companies declined.

The United States banned Brightway products from entering the country in December 2021 over suspected forced labour practices, saying it had found 10 of 11 International Labour Organization indicators of forced labour.

Allegations of misconduct at Brightway had been public for at least a year before that.

In December 2020, Malaysian officials found Brightway workers living in shipping containers, and a minister likened the squalid conditions as "modern slavery" after a raid.

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