A protest outside transnational corporation Ansell’s headquarters on December 12 was organised to coincide with an international protest demanding it reinstate sacked union activists in Sri Lanka and negotiate with genuine unions in its supply chains.
Ansell, which is based in Australia, makes personal protective equipment (PPE) including rubber gloves. Its products are made in factories in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia (some directly owned by Ansell, others contracted to it).
Victorian Trades Hall Council president Colin Long told the protesters the current dispute started in 2013 when Ansell sacked 300 workers from its factory in Sri Lanka. Following an international solidarity campaign, most were reinstated but 11 leading activists were not.
Long spoke about how many temporary migrant workers in Malaysia are in debt bondage: they owe money to labour brokers who brought them to Malaysia and their wages are taken to pay their debts.
Health and Community Services Union spokesperson Fiona McCandless said many of those who make the PPE products live crowded into shipping containers, where some have caught COVID-19. She said that Ansell was profiting from “slave labor” and called on it to “clean up its supply chain”.
A message from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, read to the rally, spoke of debt bondage, forced labor and crowded and unsafe conditions. The union called on the company to reinstate the sacked workers and change its labour practices.
Jerome Small on behalf of Australia-Asia Worker Links (AAWL) said solidarity between unions in Australia and workers in the factories where PPE is made, as well as the plantations where rubber is grown, was necessary to forge. Jiselle Hanna, also from AAWL, condemned Ansell’s “chains of exploitation” and its profiteering from “slave labor”.
The 11 sacked workers said in a statement that they appreciated the international solidarity because it strengthens their fight for justice.