Hundreds of Pakistani garment workers organized a sit-in in Karachi last week to commemorate the seventh death anniversary nearly 250 people who were killed in what has been described as the world’s worst industrial fire accident. The incident took place on September 11, 2012, at the Ali Enterprises factory.
The protesters, accompanied by survivors and family members of those who had died, gathered outside the factory where the tragedy had occurred. Members of the National Trade Union Federation and the Association of the Affectees of Baldia Factory Fire also participated in the protest.
Saeeda Khatoon, the chairperson of the victims’ association, said that workers’ lives must be respected and that “Pakistan’s law enforcing agencies should pursue the legal process to punish those responsible for the accident.”
Struggle for compensation
According to reports, the 255 victims of the factory fire, along with 57 others who were critically wounded, were compensated in May 2018, almost six years after the incident took place. The workers had to struggle for more than four years in order to receive a compensation of USD 5.2 million for the victims by reaching an agreement with the German clothing brand KiK, whose products were manufactured by Ali Enterprises.
An IndustriALL report reveals that even after a period of seven years, not much has changed with respect to industry standards. “The government and buyers need to do more to improve occupational health and safety in Pakistan’s garment factories,” the report states.
Nasir Mansoor, member of the National Trade Union Federation which is affiliated with IndustriALL, said that workers in Pakistan continue to suffer under hazardous working conditions.
“The government has diluted the labor inspection regime when it should be strengthened to improve safety. The occupational health and safety law passed by the Sindh government in 2017 should be implemented, and Pakistan must abide by the ILO (International Labour Organization) core labor conventions and GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) plus commitments,” he stressed.
The general secretary of IndustriALL, Valter Sanches, also expressed solidarity with the struggling garment workers of Pakistan. “The government should deploy adequate financial and human resources to address the health and safety crisis in factories,” he said. He also said that something akin to Bangladesh’s Accord on Fire and Building Safety should be implemented in Pakistan on a priority basis. It represents a legally binding agreement reached between the global readymade garment brands, their retailers and the workers unions. “These efforts (initiatives) should involve genuine consultation with Pakistan’s unions,” he added.