Top Glove says outbreak may push prices up

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (AP) — Malaysia’s Top Glove, the world’s largest rubber glove maker, said yesterday that supply disruptions at its factories due to a coronavirus outbreak may push glove prices up.

The company said it has shuttered 20 of its factories in an area outside Kuala Lumpur in stages since November 17 after nearly 3,000 workers tested positive for the virus, with another eight facilities in the same area running below 20 per cent of capacity.

“Of course, there is some shortage as Top Glove is a big supplier in the world. Supply will definitely be affected somehow and there is a possibility that glove prices will go up,” Executive Chairman Lim Wee Chai told a virtual news conference.

The company, which accounts for about a quarter of global supply, has said it expects between two and four weeks of delays in some deliveries and estimated a three per cent impact on projected annual sales for the 2021 financial year.

Managing Director Lee Kim Meow told the news conference that there have been no order cancellations so far. He said priority will be given to hospitals and essential services amid the shortage, and voiced confidence that the issue will be resolved quickly. Top Glove produces about 90 billion rubber gloves a year, and exports to 195 countries.

A Top Glove employee at a factory. PHOTO: BERNAMA

The area in Klang where Top Glove factories and workers’ hostels are located is currently the most active in the country. The Health Ministry said cases have spread from the factories to the wider community.

The company said some 6,000 workers have been screened, with a few thousands more to undergo testing by the end of this week. Lim dismissed concerns of contamination, saying that workers have no direct contact with the gloves, with the production lines fully automated, and that the high heat in the ovens would kill the coronavirus.

He said his team was taken by surprise by Human Resources Minister M Saravanan’s comments that checks so far revealed “deplorable” conditions at the workers’ housing.

Lim said he was puzzled as to why the minister changed his tune because he had given approval during a visit to Top Glove factories a few months ago.

“Since the minister’s visit, our housing condition has continued to improve because we pour in more money to improve facilities and we want to do it quickly. So it came as a big surprise when such comments were made,” he said, adding that the company will seek clarification.