Garment firms in Pakistan are facing cancelled export orders and problems in securing new orders from the EU and US following safety concerns after a factory fire earlier this month killed more than 289 workers.

Some orders have reportedly been shifted to Bangladesh in the wake of the disaster.

Retailers and brands sourcing from the country are now concerned over the lack of safety measures in garment factories, where owners do not implement health and safety regulations and government agencies do not check for compliance with safety rules.

Health and safety laws are also outdated. The enforced Factory Act was introduced in 1934 and the penalty of non-compliance is just PKR500 (US$5.25).

The gutted factory, Ali Enterprises, produced garments for German low-cost retailer KIK. There were no measures to evacuate workers who were trapped behind locked doors and barred windows. There was only one unlocked exit at the time of the fire, forcing dozens to jump from upper stories to escape the flames.

Ejaz Khokhar, the former chairman and chief coordinator of the Pakistan Readymade Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (PRGMEA), told just-style this type of industrial accident can happen anywhere and in any industry.

He is calling for an independent and fair enquiry to the incident with participation of the industry association to prevent a similar tragedy from happening in the future.

In particular, he believes government departments have been negligent for not enforcing the rules, adding that all the required laws for worker health and safety are available as well as 29 inspection agencies to check these measures at manufacturing plants.

He said the industry is currently processing the export orders for Christmas season which will be shipped in October/November. But many garment buyers last week left the country without placing new orders.

It is likely that Pakistan will see more exports orders being cancelled in coming months - and could result in a 15-20% reduction in garment exports from the country.