Durban company hit with R25,000 fine after locking up workers and forcing them to make masks

03 July 2020 - 16:26 By Orrin Singh
An investigation by a team from the department of economic development, tourism & environmental affairs led to the rescue of 14 workers who were locked in a Durban factory and forced to produce masks.
An investigation by a team from the department of economic development, tourism & environmental affairs led to the rescue of 14 workers who were locked in a Durban factory and forced to produce masks.
Image: Supplied

A factory in Durban where employees were locked in and forced to make surgical masks has been slapped with a R25,000 fine. 

The Chen Lu Fragrance Company appeared in the Durban magistrate's court on Thursday and pleaded guilty to various charges relating to forcing employees to work during the  lockdown.

The company, represented by one of its members, Ming Lai He, pleaded guilty to forced labour, failure to maintain an environment that is safe without risk to the health of employees and failure to have a licence to manufacture, import or act as a wholesaler or distributor of medical devices.

According to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the company had manufactured surgical masks - a substantial donation of which went to the office of the premier and the SA Police Service - during the lockdown. 

The NPA said the successful prosecution under count 3 (failure to have a licence to manufacture, import or act as a wholesaler or distributor of medical devices) is believed to be a first in the country.

On March 29 TimesLIVE reported that 14 factory workers were rescued by police after they had been locked inside the factory for six days and forced to make masks. 

Authorities stepped in after an employee reported the company for the working conditions to which they were subjected.

Provincial NPA spokesperson Natasha Kara said investigations also revealed the company had not applied for the relevant licence to manufacture or distribute surgical masks.

"Acting regional court public prosecutor Ronitha Singh told the court this was a technical prosecution involving voluminous legislation, regulation and guidelines. The investigation also required the assistance of the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority, department of trade & industry, labour department, the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications and the SA Bureau of Standards (SABS)."

Kara said the relevant stakeholders have now issued a joint formal document on compliance because of the state’s queries and the issues raised. 


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