Harps Drives Growth Through Sustainability And ESG Principles


A set of core corporate values underpin the operation of most businesses, but for glove manufacturer HARPS Holdings Berhad, the values are even written into the company’s name, which stands for: Honesty, Accuracy, Reliability, Presence and Sustainability.

HARPS’ philosophy is built upon four fundamental strategy pillars—evolutionary innovation; commercial and supply chain excellence; human capital development; and operational excellence— which are known internally as ECHO.

Haziq bin Zairel Oh, Founder, Managing Director and CEO of HARPS, was brought up and guided by his father, the late Mr. Oh Tiam Sing, who worked in the glove industry for more than 25 years and who was one of the pioneers of nitrile gloves in Malaysia. Haziq established HARPS in 2015 as an investment company and assembled a key senior management team. Armed with more than 20 years of experience in the rubber industry, and thus possessing a keen understanding of the unique complexities of glove-making, they worked together to manage and lead HARPS and its subsidiaries strategically on their business journey.

Investing in the Future

HARPS acquired Central Medicare Sdn. Bhd. (CMSB) and New Era Medicare Sdn. Bhd. (NEM) in 2015, and has invested approximately RM1.1 billion (US$261 million) in its glove business over the years. Today, via CMSB, it is operating in OEM mode to manufacture and market high-quality nitrile examination gloves. NEM, meanwhile, conducts R&D, and is involved in the manufacturing and distribution of surgical and specialty gloves.

Under CMSB, HARPS currently has 34 production lines with a total annual installed capacity of 11.6 billion gloves, representing an impressive tenfold increase within six years.

Further expansion plans are also underway, and HARPS has invested in building two more manufacturing blocks in addition to its existing four blocks. This will help increase the annual installed capacity to 19.5 billion gloves by 2023.

In 2020, the total global export volume of gloves was approximately 382 billion gloves. As a proportion of global export market share, HARPS held approximately 2% in both volume and value of sales. As of November 2021, HARPS has more than 35 customers across four continents, with the largest proportion coming from the U.S., followed by Asia and Europe. The application of HARPS’ gloves ranges from food safety and industrial to medical and PPE barrier protection.

R&D at the Forefront

HARPS fosters an innovative culture driven by R&D and talent development, with the belief that innovation is necessary to ensure business competitiveness and sustainability. As of October 31, 2021, HARPS has 33 personnel involved in delivering innovations to support product and process development, engineering innovation, technical support and product stewardship. The various application solutions that HARPS has introduced include: eco-friendly malachite gloves with a lower carbon footprint, which is quantified by a cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment; gloves with high permeation resistance for chemotherapy; gloves with resistance to specific chemicals; and gloves with low dermatitis potential.

Addressing the changing demands of the market over the years, HARPS has fulfilled various customer requirements via successful R&D projects. Based on customer requests, HARPS has managed to decrease the thickness and weight of its gloves, from 3.5 grams in 2015 to 2.7 grams, without compromising on the tensile strength of its products. In addition, HARPS continues to invest in fundamental formulation and material science know-how to enhance its product quality, optimize productivity and ultimately leverage on the hand-barrier protection performance of its products.

HARPS is also investing in operational innovation, process optimization, automation and digitalization in line with Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR 4.0), with an initial investment amounting to RM30 million (US$7 million) to continuously improve the efficiency of manufacturing control.

Sustainability and Beyond

Mindful of shifting global priorities, HARPS is working hard to integrate sustainability as not only one of its core values, but also as a key element in its business operations. To chart its path for the future, HARPS has implemented a five-year sustainability roadmap to focus on five key pillars: integrated business strategy, people, environmental, health and safety, and governance and compliance. HARPS’ ESG initiatives are also aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

As reflected in its ECHO strategy and its sustainability roadmap, the people element and human capital development are priorities for HARPS. Viewing its workforce as the company’s most important asset, HARPS places the utmost importance on employee welfare, attributing its continued success to the contribution and commitment of each member of staff. As an illustration of this, the firm has invested heavily in learning and development programs to upskill employees, and has subscribed to globally recognized ethical audit procedures.

HARPS became a member of the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex) in 2019 and has since undergone two Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audits. These are based on the Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code, which focuses on the four key pillars of labor standards, business ethics, health and safety, and environment.

In line with its growth plans, CMSB is expected to expand its workforce from 2,600 to 3,500 staff by 2023. As a growing employer, HARPS implements sound labor practices guided by the International Labour Organization’s 11 forced labor indicators, which include providing a platform for workers to speak out (via a workers’ representative committee) and ensuring that there is no unlawful withholding or deduction of workers’ salaries. A zero-recruitment fee policy is also among the various ESG practices implemented by HARPS, which amounts to a spend of more than RM12 million (US$2.85 million) to date. To improve the living conditions of its foreign workers, meanwhile, HARPS has built permanent hostels that have been assessed by Malaysia’s Ministry of Human Resources, and which hold valid Certificates for Accommodation.

Ultimately, by drawing on its deeply held corporate values, HARPS is on track to bring the principles of sustainability to every part of its business as it continues to grow.

Source: Forbes Asia




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