U.S. bans imports from fifth Malaysian firm in 15 months over alleged forced labour

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 5 (Reuters) - U.S. customs authorities have banned imports from Malaysian rubber glove maker Smart Glove over alleged forced labour practices, making it the fifth Malaysian firm to face such a ban in the past 15 months.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a "Withhold Release Order" that prohibits imports from Smart Glove and its group of companies, the CBP said in a statement on Thursday, a decision it said was based on reasonable evidence that indicates "Smart Glove production facilities utilise forced labour".

Smart Glove, which makes gloves used in the medical and food industries, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Malaysian factories - which make everything from palm oil to medical gloves and Apple (AAPL.O) iPhone components - have come under increasing scrutiny over allegations from rights groups and workers of abuse of foreign employees, who form a significant part of the manufacturing workforce.

In its statement, the CBP said its investigation identified seven of the 11 forced labour indicators set out by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) at Smart Glove, but did not say which ones were found.

The ILO indicators include excessive hours, debt bondage, physical and sexual violence, abusive working and living conditions.

The United States banned another glove maker, Supermax Corp (SUPM.KL), over similar allegations last month. Supermax has said it will speed up a process it had begun in 2019 to meet ILO standards.

Supermax's bigger Malaysian rival Top Glove (TPGC.KL) - the world's largest latex glove maker - was barred by the CBP over similar allegations last July. The ban was lifted last month after the company resolved the labour issues.

Palm oil producers Sime Darby Plantation (SIPL.KL) and FGV Holdings (FGVH.KL) have also been banned by the CBP in the last year.

Sime Darby and FGV have both appointed auditors to evaluate their practices and said they would engage with the CBP to address the concerns raised.

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Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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