2012 Pakistan Garment Factory Fires - ”Ali Enterprises” Baldia Town Garments Factory Fire in Karachi Story – An Essay for Matric to MA Level Students
Garment factories in the Pakistani city of Karachi caught fire on 11 September 2012. The fires occurred in a textile factory in the western part of Karachi. The fires are considered to be the most deadly and worst industrial factory fires in Pakistan’s history, killing 315 people and seriously injuring more than 250.
Pakistan has one of the largest labour and manpower resources in the world, due to its large population. According to data produced by the CIA World Factbook, the total number of Pakistan’s labour force is 58.4 million, making it the 10th largest country in terms of available human workforce. About 20.1% of labour force is involved in industry. The conditions under which Pakistan’s blue-collar labour works have often been raised by trade unions and workers’ rights organisations. There is also a controversial, yet wide use of child labour in Pakistan.
The garment factory “Ali Enterprises”, which is located in Plot 67, Hub Road, Baldia Town, Karachi, used to export its garments to Europe and the United States, and had employed between 1,200 and 1,500 workers. Ali Enterprises manufactured denim, knitted garments, and hosiery, and had capital of between $10 million and $50 million. Workers at Ali Enterprises said they earned between 5,000 and 10,000 rupees ($52 to $104) a month for their labour. The factory is suspected of using child labour and locked workplaces analogous to prison cells. The owner of the factory, Abdul Aziz, had reportedly prevented inspections of the factory.
Fire in Karachi
Ali Enterprises’ factory caught fire when a boiler exploded and the flames ignited chemicals that were stored in the factory. Between 300 and 400 workers were inside the factory when the blaze erupted. Officials said that all the exit doors in the factory were locked and many of the windows of the factory were covered with iron bars, which made it difficult for workers to escape at the time of the fire and consequently many of the deaths were caused by suffocation.
One of the factory owners in Karachi, Arshad Bhaila, claimed that the fire first broke out in the warehouse and he himself called the fire brigade, which arrived about an hour and a half late. On 14 September, Justice Hassan Azhar of Sindh High Court Larkana Bench approved Rs. 5 lakh each for protective bail of the factory owners Abdul Aziz, Shahid Bhaila and Arshad Bhaila.
The C.E.O. of Ali Enterprises, Shahid Bhalia, (who is a nephew of the factory’s owner) said that he was innocent, was ready to appear before any court and that he was ready to provide compensation to the victims and their families. However, the owner had apparently obtained a “fake certificate” from an audit company, which claimed that conditions in his factory were acceptable, in order to satisfy his export market’s clients.
In August of 2012, two inspectors who visited the factory, Ali Enterprises in Karachi, to examine working conditions gave it a prestigious SA8000 certification, meaning it had met international standards in nine areas, including health and safety, child labor and minimum wages. The two inspectors were working on behalf of Social Accountability International, a nonprofit monitoring group based in New York that obtains much of financing from corporations and relies on 21 affiliates around the world to do most of its inspections.
The Deputy General Secretary of the Pakistan National Federation of Trade Unions (PNFTU) Nasir Manoor said that the owner of the factory, Abdul Aziz, must have fled from the country so far despite having his name on the Exit Control List (ECL) and he would return only after the issue was off the media radar. The Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) has rejected allegations that it was involved in the approval of building plan for the Baldia Town garment factory.
The court on September 17 had directed the Sate Bank of Pakistan and other banks to freeze accounts of the factory owners.
Reaction of Government of Pakistan:
President Asif Ali Zardari expressed grave concern over the rising toll in the fire incident. He also condoled the bereaved families and directed the authorities concerned to ensure that the best medical assistance was provided to the affected people.had called for a report on fire incidents in Karachi and Lahore from the governors of the two provinces.
Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, who was on an official trip to China, telephoned Punjab Governor Sardar Latif Khosa and Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif to express his grief and shock over the incident in Lahore. He also called Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad to learn about the latest situation regarding the Karachi factory fire. Ashraf also his heartfelt condolences and sympathies to the victims’ families. He asked the governors and chief ministers to extend all out assistance and cooperation to the affected people.
Sindh Minister for Industry and Commerce Rauf Siddique announced his resignation as a result of the incidence. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement announced three days of mourning. The Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan also offered condolences and prayed for the victims.
Governor of Sindh Ishrat-ul-Ibad Khan has expressed grief over the loss of life in the fire incident and expressed sympathy with the injured of the incident. He then directed the officials concerned to utilise all available resources to control the blaze and ordered an inquiry into the incident. He has also directed the respective authorities to ensure the victims do not face any problems in their treatment and recovery. He also prayed for the early recovery of the injured.
Pakistan’s parliament then unanimously passed a resolution asking provincial and federal authorities to fully investigate the accidents. According to the Geo TV, under Factory Act 1934, the owner will have to pay only Rs.500 ($5) in penalty over negligence in the protection of workers. The leader of Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N), Nawaz Sharif has announced Rs. 3 lakhs in aid to the families of those killed in this incident. On 13 September it was reported that the Sind provincial government would offer financial compensation of Rs. 5 lakhs to the families of the dead victims and Rs. 50,000 to those who had been injured, while the city’s power utility company, KESC, announced they would waive all outstanding balances of the victims as a goodwill gesture. Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah also announced further compensation of Rs. 3 lakhs for the families of the dead and Rs. 50,000 for those who had been injured.
In Lahore, the Punjab Government announced the same value for the families of those who died and Rs. 75,000 for each of those who had been injured as compensation.
Real estate tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain also announced cash assistance of Rs. 2 lakh for the family members of those killed in the factory fire and Rs. 1 lakh for those who had been injured. Zohra Yusuf, Chair of The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has urged government officials to initiate a full probe of the disaster and conditions surrounding the facilities, echoing claims made from the head of fire fighting that factory was dangerous.
International Reaction on Fire:
China: Ambassador Liu Jian called on Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Malik Amad Khan on 13 September to convey his condolences on behalf of the government and people of China. He also presented cheques of Rs. 30 lakhs on behalf of the Chinese government for the families of victims.
France: The embassy quoted a spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairsin saying: “We were deeply shocked to learn that two fires in Pakistan – in Karachi and in Lahore – have, according to the latest report, resulted in the death of more than 200 people. In these painful circumstances, we extend our condolences to the families and friends of the victims.”
India: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered his condolences to his Pakistani counterpart, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, saying: “I was deeply saddened to learn of the loss of lives in the fire accidents in Karachi and Lahore on Tuesday, September 11. On behalf of the government and the people of India, and on my own behalf, I convey our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the two tragedies.”
Iran: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered condolences to the Pakistani government and the country saying: “The news on getting killed and wounded of a large number of your good self’s citizens following two vast and horrendous fire incidents in cities of Karachi and Lahore deeply saddened and depressed us, and that while condoling with you, the Pakistan government, and noble Pakistani nation, personally, and on behalf of the Iranian government and the great Iranian nation, I pray to Almighty Allah for the salvation of the souls of the bygone victims, fast recovery of the injured victims, patience for the victims’ bereaved families, and prosperity and wellbeing for the friend and brother Pakistani nation.”.
Qatar: Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani sent a cable to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari expressing his condolences and sympathies to the families of victims. Deputy Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Al Thani sent a similar cable to Zardari.
United Kingdom: MP Baroness Saeeda Warsi also expressed her grief and said: “I am deeply saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life caused by devastating factory fires in Karachi and Lahore and to hear that so many of the victims were children. I send my heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of all the victims. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.”
United States: The chargé d’affaires at the embassy, Richard Hoagland, offered condolences in a press release. on behalf of the U.S. government and its people to Pakistan Lahore Consul General Nina Fite also extended condolences on behalf of the consulate and the U.S. people. “I would like to offer our deepest condolences to the victims of the tragic fire incidents that together claimed so many innocent lives.”
Germany: The factory of Ali Enterprises at Karachi did manufacture jeans clothes for the Germany based textile discounter KiK with about 3,200 stores in 8 European. KiK claims to control the observance of elementary labour laws and security standard of its suppliers, but the discounter has repeatedly been criticized for its lax controls. A security check in 2007 had revealed deficiencies in fire protection of the Karachi plant, but KiK says they were fixed by 2011. According to the Pakistani textile workers union (NTUF), a high working pressure and overtime with unpayed additional work were frequent in the factory.
Reaction of NGOs on Fire:
The Asian Human Rights Commission conveyed its “sincere condolences to the families who lost loved ones and friends in these fires and calls on the government of Pakistan to ensure a credible and transparent investigation into their cause.
International Labor Organization’s Country Director Francesco d’Ovidio said that akin to other developing countries, working and safety conditions in Pakistan’s industrial sector were inadequate. Though the ILO is acquainted with the issues, it acknowledged that it could not be resolved quickly. He said: “The ILO is aware that there are a lot of factories in Pakistan that are scattered [and] many of them are not registered, so it is very difficult to implement the law. It is very important to ensure that all these factories are registered so that it is possible to follow the situation in all these factories.” He further pointed to the need for effective inspection and monitoring, but added that shutting down the illegal and unregistered units would not help as it could lead to massive unemployment.
Francesco d’Ovidio, ILO Pakistan Country Director, flew to Karachi and held a meeting with Dr. Ishrat Ul Ebad Khan, Governor of Sindh Province. D’Ovidio expressed his condolences on the death of so many workers and outlined how the ILO will help victims’ families and the Sindh Labour Department.“In this tragedy, the ILO stands ready to provide support to the victims’ families, help them recover from their loss and strengthen the Sindh Labour Department to prevent a re-occurrence of such incidents in the future. The ILO is ready to offer immediate- and medium-term assistance, including skills training scholarships to members of the victims’ families and link them with decent jobs,’ D’Ovidio said. ‘We will help enterprises put in place a safe work culture in workplaces through the rapid training of labour inspectors in Sindh,’ he added.
The ILO will provide the following assistance in immediate to medium term period:
> Quick need assessment of the families of the victims, to determine their income loss and the ways to help them recover, to get back on their feet again
> Extend skills training scholarships to 500 members of the victim’s families and link them with Decent Jobs.
> Extend technical assistance on rapid training of Labour Inspectors in Sindh on “Promoting Fire Safety at Workplace”. Through labour inspection help enterprises to put in-place Safe Work culture at the work places
> Building institutional capacity of the Sind Labour Department to improve its efficiency of the labour Inspection.
> Awareness for Employers Organization for self-regulation
> Advocate for developing a Code of Conduct on OSH by Employers & Workers
> Partnering with media to promote safe work concept in the country
This tragedy will focus attention on weak workplace safety in a country that relies on low-cost garment and textile exports, observers say.
“As per the Electrical Rules 1973, it is mandatory for every factory administration to regularly get its electronic appliances and other such equipment verified from the department concerned and to ensure that hazards in the workplace are eliminated, minimised, or controlled,” said Sharafat Ali, an official at the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), a non-governmental labour rights group.
“In the Karachi factory (fire), there were no safety measures; there was no emergency exit. All the people got trapped,”Ali told Central Asia Online.
The number of Pakistani industrial accidents grew to 419 in 2008, compared to 354 in 2000, according to PILER. In 2011, the number of fatal accidents reached 101. Last February, 23 people were killed by an explosion, presumably due to a boiler or gas cylinder failure in a pharmaceutical factory in the Multan Road area of Lahore.
Few businesses obey safety and fire exit laws, preferring to take advantage of ineffective monitoring, said Muhammad Saleem, a Karachi-based health and safety analyst.
“Most of our factories and shopping centres have no safety mechanisms, which the authorities should review seriously; otherwise, it could cause graver tragedies in future,” Saleem told Central Asia Online. via: wikipedia.org