PAKISTAN: Factory safety under the spotlight following fire
As information continues to emerge on the devastating fire that killed more than 260 workers at a garment factory in Pakistan earlier this week, brands sourcing from the country are being urged to undertake immediate reviews of their suppliers.
The Ali Enterprise factory in Karachi, which burned down on Tuesday (11 September), was believed to be supplying goods to the European market.
Worker rights group the Clean Clothes Campaign is now warning that similar disasters could happen again if the root causes of these fires are not urgently addressed.
The International Labour Organization (ILO), meanwhile, has set out a series of measures to try to strengthen workplace safety, to prevent a similar tragedy from happening in the future.
Francesco d'Ovidio, ILO Pakistan country director, flew to Karachi today (14 September) to meet with Dr Ishrat Ul Ebad Khan, governor of Sindh Province.
As well as providing support to the victims' families, he said the ILO is ready to offer immediate and medium-term assistance. "We will help enterprises put in place a safe work culture in workplaces through the rapid training of labour inspectors in Sindh," he added.
Following what is one of the worst industrial incidents ever to have happened in Pakistan, local unions are calling for the arrest of the factory owner of Ali Enterprises. Demands are also being made for government officials who have acted negligently to be prosecuted.
Early reports suggest around 1000 workers were working in the Ali Enterprises factory at the time the fire broke out. There was no fire fighting equipment inside the factory, and the high death toll has been attributed to the fact that workers were trapped inside the factory. Only one fire exit was available, windows on most of the floors were barred and stairways were blocked.
A number of workers were killed jumping from windows. It is believed many more workers died of suffocation in the basement after it became flooded with water. Unions say identification of the dead has been hindered by the fact that workers did not have contracts.
The ILO is calling for the restoration of labour inspections in all factories and has pledged to help build the capacity of Sindh Labour Department in order to improve inspections. It will also help employers and workers develop a code of conduct and will promote the idea of self-regulation by employers.
The National Trade Union Federation in Karachi says the factory fire is not an isolated one but a regular occurrence in an industry that is poorly regulated and largely non-unionised.
Indeed, a separate blaze on Tuesday at a four-story shoe-making factory in the eastern city of Lahore killed at least 25 people and injured 14 other workers.
The Clean Clothes Campaign also insists that the fire follows a pattern of negligence occurring not just in Pakistan but throughout the garment industry.
In Bangladesh for example, whose industry has suffered from a spate of similar fires involving brands such as H&M, Zara and Gap, a memorandum of understanding was signed earlier this year by trade unions, labour rights groups and US based company PVH, which owns the Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein brands.
The agreement provides for independent inspections, training, and workers committees on health and safety issues.
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