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The Citizens NGO join Wilsons’ case holding the government to account for modern slavery in their supply chain

Date posted: 4 November 2021

(Above photo of sanitising chemicals being sprayed on workers, their belongings and beds, at Supermax factory accommodation).

 

The UK government continues to source PPE from the Supermax Corporation, despite their products being banned from the US due to links with forced labour. The Citizens NGO have now joined our potential legal action as co-claimant, against the government for their failure to tackle modern slavery abuse in their supply chains.

 

Wilson Solicitors LLP represent several current and former workers of Malaysian glove factories who are concerned that the NHS Supply Chain continue to source from companies despite documented concerns regarding human rights abuses in the manufacture and supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

 

The last round of contracts for PPE glove supplies were awarded to those supplying from Malaysian companies, many of whom were later banned from importing the US due to evidence of modern slavery in their supply chain. Indeed last month the US banned products from the Supermax Corporation after their investigation found 10 out of 11 indicators of forced labour present at their factories.  We are aware that after the US ban of other suppliers the government did ‘lock’ gloves from certain companies being supplied to the NHS, for example Top Glove. However in parliamentary questions this week it was revealed that the government placed an order for 135 million gloves from Supermax, worth just under £8million as recently as July this year.

 

Nusrat Uddin, the lead solicitor from Wilson Solicitors in this matter, said:

 

‘The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was introduced as ground-breaking legislation to combat modern slavery, encouraging businesses to take active steps to eradicate modern slavery within their operations and supply chains. However recent research has shown that the legislation has failed to drive systemic corporate improvements, even in high-risk sectors. We are concerned that the government’s weak approach to enforcing transparency in supply chains in UK businesses is the same weak approach it has taken to ensuring transparency in the supply chains of the companies it has been procuring from. This case would be the first case to hold the government to account for failures in relation to modern slavery in their supply chain.

 

If the US government’s investigation have found material to support the presence of 10 indicators of forced labour at Supermax factories it is concerning that the UK government’s own due diligence has been unable to find any credible allegations as they suggest.’

 

Wilson Solicitors have communicated to NHS Supply Chain their expectation that the due diligence, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms associated with the current procurement exercise will ensure that serious concerns around labour standards, including forced labour, are avoided or (at a minimum) promptly identified and effectively addressed. They have referred, in particular, to the regulations governing public procurement which provide contracting authorities with discretionary powers to exclude bidders and suppliers who have demonstrably breached standards set by relevant international environmental, social and labour laws.

 

The Citizens have been leading their own investigation and have been provided with accounts taken from over numerous Supermax migrant workers over the last few months. The consistency in the accounts supports the veracity of the statements, which outline the presence of several indicators of forced labour and modern slavery. Workers say that they have not been allowed to leave the company’s factory grounds since spring last year; as a result the company controls where and how they access their food, money, and medical attention. Everything they buy has to be from the company’s own shops on the premises that have a premium attached, they are fined for minor issues such as having their phone with them, but they don’t have access to their own money, so instead have to give the company staff their bank cards and pin numbers for them to withdraw money including for the payment of these fines. So it appears the workers are not only working for low wages in extreme and restrictive conditions, but their pay is also being fed back into the company which controls their everyday life.

 

Clara Maguire, lead at the Citizens said:

 

‘We are waiting to see if the UK government has properly investigated claims of slavery and exploitation in Supermax factories. The US has already taken the step to ban them. We want to know what due diligence has been done to ensure any further contracts are in line with the values and vision set forth in this governments own Modern Slavery Act.’

The Citizens are now also preparing to join as a co-claimant to the potential litigation and are raising funding to support their efforts in this regards. All funds raised will be shared with the factory worker clients, if they are not utilised in legal action. If you would like to support please follow this link.