New report exposes exploitation in medical supply chains

Thursday 20th April, 2017

A new report conducted by the country’s largest union, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), in conjunction with The Australia Institute has revealed high-levels of exploitation and human rights abuses suffered by low-wage workers involved in the overseas production of every-day medical goods used by Australians.

According to the report titled Do No Harm? Procurement of Medical Goods by Australian Companies and Government the production of surgical gloves and instruments, clothing, footwear and electronics, is “tainted by hazardous working conditions, labour exploitation, child labour and other abuses” and Australian firms and governments are failing to address it.

ANMF Federal Secretary Lee Thomas said the damning findings showed the “hidden cost” of the unethical procurement and production of heath care products, with low-paid workers in parts of the Asia Pacific paying the price for the health and well-being of Australian consumers.

“The reality is workers in these developing countries continue to be exploited as they help produce healthcare goods for the benefit of the Australian market,” Ms Thomas said.

“In manufacturing commonly-used products such as rubber gloves, instruments and garments, the report reveals that their supply chains have high levels of child labour and a shocking lack of health and safety procedures in place, with no trade union representation for these exploited workers.”

While many ASX-listed healthcare companies have established policies addressing supply chain practices, the report found that only two out of 10 medical goods companies listed on the ASX have an ethical sourcing policy.

“It’s troubling that Australia lags behind other countries such as Sweden and Norway and the UK in protecting workers across medical supply chains. It seems Australian companies are turning a blind eye to the dreadful human rights abuses occurring in the manufacturing of their products overseas,” Ms Thomas explained.

“As a civilised nation, Australia has a moral obligation to be doing more. The ANMF is calling on the Australian Government to take more action and commit to a national action plan to implement the United Nations’ guiding principles on business and human rights and introduce reporting that require companies to demonstrate measures to mitigate exploitation and abuse.

“Currently none of the ASX listed companies have published policies on rights of migrant workers, the use of labour hire companies, recruitment fees, written pay slips and confiscation of passports. This should be a mandatory requirement by the Australian Government before companies are awarded lucrative contracts.”

To view the Do No Harm report, go to

The ANMF, with over 259,000 members, is the industrial and professional voice for nurses, midwives and assistants in nursing in Australia. 

ANMF media inquiries: 0411 254 390.