The UK government faces legal action over its decision to continue using a Malaysian company accused of using forced labor as a supplier of personal protective equipment (PPE) to the NHS.
Lawyers for London law firm Wilson Solicitors have filed for judicial review of the government’s decision to name the UK branch of Malaysian firm Supermax as one of the approved suppliers in a new £ 6 billion contract for disposable gloves for NHS workers.
Supermax has faced persistent allegations of the use of forced labor involving its migrant workforce at factories in Malaysia since 2019. In October 2021, the United States banned imports from Supermax after an investigation found “ample evidence” of forced labor. Canada halted federal imports in November 2021, also amid concerns over labor abuse.
In 2019, Supermax workers claimed they had to work 30 days in a row without a day off and paid high fees in their home country to get the jobs. The company has denied the allegations.
After the US ban, the UK government launched its own investigation into the modern slavery and forced labor allegations involving Supermax. But in December 2021, Supermax was named as one of the approved suppliers able to offer contracts under the NHS ‘new’ framework agreement ‘for the purchase of surgical gloves.
Wilson Solicitors, who acts for a group of Supermax workers, said he had asked the NHS to reconsider its decision to continue awarding contracts to the company, arguing that UK procurement law allows authorities to terminate relations with suppliers on the basis of evidence of abuse of work. He said he found the government’s response “inadequate” and was therefore proceeding with the judicial review.
“The legal requirements make it clear that there should be a real supplier verification before the award phase, but it is not certain that these requirements have been met,” said Nusrat Uddin, attorney at Wilson.
“It is inadequate for the government to exercise due diligence after the award stage, their approach undermines the UK’s claims that it is the world leader in the fight against modern slavery and highlights the weakness of its own legislation, policies and practices, ”she said. noted.
The case is to be heard Friday before the high court. Wilson said it was the first time the UK government had faced legal action under government procurement law.
Supermax has supplied hundreds of millions of gloves via the NHS to doctors and nurses in hospitals. In 2020, he was awarded a Covid-19 contract worth £ 316million. The last order from Supermax was in July 2021 for 135million gloves at a cost of £ 7.9million, according to the Department of Health and Social Affairs.
A government spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Affairs, which oversees the NHS, said: “We have made firm commitments to eradicate modern slavery from all contracts in the government supply chain.
“We take any allegation of this nature very seriously and do not hesitate to investigate complaints made against manufacturers. An appropriate due diligence process is carried out for all contracts and our suppliers are held to the highest legal and ethical standards. We cannot comment further at this point.
Malaysia produces almost two-thirds of the world’s disposable gloves. During the pandemic, the NHS also supplied UK hospitals with millions of Brightway and Top Glove gloves, which have been accused of work abuse by some of their employees.
Supermax did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment, but said in a statement it implemented a new foreign worker policy in November 2021 that would “speed up the process” of meeting labor standards. of the International Labor Organization.
He also said he had raised his minimum wage, reimbursed recruiting fees to some former workers and worked on an equal pay structure to eliminate discriminatory practices.