By Megan Maltenfort, VP of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)
December is World Human Rights Month, a celebration of the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a landmark document drafted by representatives of all regions of the world, outlining inalienable rights that must be protected. The Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly in Paris on December 10, 1948.
At Cardinal Health, we strive to protect human rights throughout our supply chain. As Human Rights Month comes to a close, I’m proud to shine a light on the Responsible Glove Alliance (RGA), which plays an important role in this work. Cardinal Health and six other companies* launched this collaborative initiative in March 2022, to mitigate workers’ rights risks within the rubber gloves industry. Today, the RGA has grown to 10 member companies.
The need for rubber gloves – and for the RGA
Healthcare providers rely heavily on rubber and synthetic gloves, which are used to protect providers and patients from the spread of infection or illness during medical examinations and procedures. These gloves are also essential in food preparation, and as cleanroom gloves, worn during the manufacture of electronic, aerospace, solar, medical and pharmaceutical products to protect them from contamination.
The global disposable gloves market was valued at about $12.3B in 2022, and is projected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.9% from 2023 to 2030, according to Global Market Insights.
The manufacture of rubber and synthetic gloves is labor-intensive and relies largely on foreign migrant workers, who are particularly vulnerable to forced labor during their recruitment and employment. The RGA works to improve conditions for such vulnerable workers in Malaysia – the largest producer of rubber gloves – and around the world.
All RGA members commit to establishing processes for ongoing due diligence to assess and proactively address human rights impacts within their supply chains and recruitment partners, as established by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct to identify, prevent or mitigate the adverse impact of forced labor on workers.
Launching the RGA
Cardinal Health understands that no single entity can remedy human rights issues within the supply chain. Our goal, and that of the other members of the RGA, is to harness the power of collective action by multiple suppliers and distributors.
Lori Crosley, a member of our ESG team and Cardinal Health’s representative on the RGA’s steering committee, explained, “In 2020, we began talking with some of our peers about joining with us in an alliance. We sought advice from LRQA, a global audit and assurance provider with expertise in supply chain human rights issues, and from the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA), the world's largest industry coalition dedicated to corporate social responsibility in global supply chains. With the guidance and help of these organizations, the seven founding members designed and launched the RGA.”
RGA membership is open to all rubber glove manufacturers and all companies globally that purchase rubber gloves. The RGA provides members with tools and programming to assess human rights, labor standards, and migrant labor risks at the employment site and with recruitment partners, promote responsible recruitment of migrant workers, incorporate worker engagement, and deliver remediation, where appropriate.
The RGA and its members work together with other key stakeholders to consistently apply international standards and due diligence in alignment with the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Other alliances have proven effective in mitigating human rights risks in other industries. For example, the RBA, mentioned above, focuses on mitigating the human rights issues in the electronics, retail, auto and toy industries – with many companies working together to support the rights of workers in their supply chains.
The RBA also provides the necessary anti-trust governance and oversight of the RGA. This oversight is critical to legal compliance; it also lifts the RGA from what would otherwise be a self-monitored, insular organization to one that is respected by governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other businesses.
The first RGA in-person meeting
In September this year, the RGA’s steering committee, with representatives of each of the founding companies, hosted its first in-person meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The event was attended by more than 200: buyers and manufacturers of rubber gloves, and key government officials including the Director of the Forced Labor Division of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Malaysia’s Minister of Human Resources, the EU Ambassador to Malaysia, the Vice President of the EU Parliament, the British High Commissioner to Malaysia, and the Deputy Chief of Mission from the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia.
“The more we’re able to engage companies and government agencies, the better able we are to protect workers in the supply chain,” Crossley said. “Having so many organizations represented at this RGA meeting provided a great opportunity to learn from each other, and to hear from government officials about their work to protect human rights.”
At the meeting, Malaysia’s Deputy Minister of Human Resources discussed his country’s focus on protecting workers’ rights; he congratulated the RGA for its work in elevating and mitigating risk. The Director of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP’s) Forced Labor Division told the gathering that his organization can work with the RGA toward collective goals.
The RGA is still very much in its early stages of growth, but the business leaders and dignitaries it attracted to its Malaysia meeting represent its growing influence. This alliance is beginning to make a positive difference, and, as the RGA welcomes new members, this progress will no doubt accelerate.
*In addition to Cardinal Health, founding member companies include Henry Schein, Inc., Kimberly-Clark Corporation, and rubber glove manufacturers Ansell Limited, Hartalega Holdings, Kossan Rubber Industries and YTY Industry Holdings. Learn more at ResponsibleGlove.org.
With deep expertise in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), Megan Maltenfort is responsible for guiding a cross-functional working group of leaders from across the company in building and driving an ambitious enterprise-wide ESG strategy. Prior to joining Cardinal Health, Maltenfort served as Director of Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability at the Campbell Soup Company, where she co-led the creation of Campbell’s enterprise-wide ESG strategy; external corporate responsibility reporting; stakeholder management with investors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and customers; and more.