PAKISTAN: Hundreds of garment workers perish in factory fire
Labour rights groups are calling for action after fires killed around 265 garment and footwear factory workers in two separate incidents in Pakistan yesterday (11 September).
In what is one of the worst incidents reported in Pakistan, a fire completely engulfed a five-story garment factory named as Ali Enterprises located at Baldia Town No 2 in the port city of Karachi. More than 240 people were reported to have been killed and over 50 were seriously injured by burns and smoke inhalation.
According to media reports, many victims were trapped in a basement with no fire exits and locked doors. Most died from suffocation when the basement filled with smoke. Other workers on higher floors rushed to windows to escape but struggled to get out because metal bars blocked their way.
Around 2,000 people are employed at the factory, and around 1500 workers were in the building when the fire broke yesterday evening. The factory works around the clock in three 8-hours shifts producing underwear.
The factory is now in danger of collapsing, and its owner is under investigation.
Earlier, a blaze in the eastern city of Lahore killed at least 25 people and injured 14 other workers in a four-story shoe-making factory. It is thought the fire broke out after sparks from a generator caught flammable material, which was stored without using safety measures.
There are around 4,000 garment-making factories in Pakistan, mostly located at Karachi, Lahore and Faisalabad. Many of them are not properly equipped with emergency services and municipal rules are rarely enforced.
At the same time the Pakistan fires were being reported, news emerged of the death of 14 migrant garment workers in Moscow after the building they were locked into caught fire.
UK anti sweatshop group Labour Behind the Label is now calling on the fashion industry to do more to ensure the safety of workers.
Although it is not yet clear if the factories were producing for the domestic or the export market, the fires highlight issues that are endemic throughout the garment industry, it says.
"These deaths could and should have been avoided", said Sam Maher of Labour Behind the Label.
"Emergency exits were inexistent or locked, and workers were trapped. This is the usual pattern: it is well known that many workplaces are unsafe, and that workers in key producing countries risk their lives on a daily basis producing clothes for Europe and the US".
Seiji Machida, head of the International Labor Organization's (ILO) SafeWork Programme, added to calls for stronger legal and other supporting measures to improve workplace safety and health in all countries, particularly in developing countries.
Unions and labour groups in Pakistan have announced major protests today and tomorrow.
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