Some of the family members of workers killed in a deadly factory fire in 2012 mark the fourth anniversary of what is the worst industrial accident in Karachi on Sept. 11. (Photo by National Trade Union Federation)
Four years after a fire gutted a Karachi garment factory, killing over 250 workers, a German retailer has agreed to compensate people affected by the industrial disaster.
Ali Enterprises, a garment factory popularly known in Pakistan as Baldia Factory, which supplied cheap clothes to German retailer, KiK, caught fire on Sept. 11, 2012, trapping hundreds of workers inside.
Unable to find emergency exits and with entry points locked to avoid theft, 259 workers, including 42 women and nine Christians, were killed and many more injured.
A judicial probe into the inferno exposed a lack of emergency exits, poor safety training and incompetent safety inspections. KiK, a German retailer, has finally agreed to pay US$5.15 million to the families of those who perished.
Church applauds the news
"We appreciate it. But it is no alternative to a human life. More than 250 poor workers died due to criminal negligence," said Father Saleh Diego, Vicar General of Karachi Archdiocese and director of National Commission for Justice and Peace.
"The compensation should bring some relief to the affected families," Father Diego said. "The real justice will be done when responsibility is fixed and punishment is awarded to those [responsible]."
The family of two Catholic Christian victims, 32-year-old Shehzad Jerome and his 29-year-old younger brother Anil Jerome, were previously paid around US$9,000 by the federal and provincial governments and factory owners.
"We are glad about the compensation pledge. It will help my widowed sister-in-law to educate her two kids," said Noman, the brother-in-law of Shehzad Jerome.
Agreement seen as 'historic'
Pakistan's central trade body, National Trade Union Federation, the Ali Enterprises Fire Affectees Association and others hailed the agreement as "historic."
In a joint statement on Sept. 11, the federation and association expressed thanks to the International Labor Organization, IndustriALL Global Union, Clean Clothes Campaign as well as the German government and others for their contribution to the process. "With this decision, the laborers' long standing demand is going to be fulfilled," it said.
Nasir Mansoor, Deputy General Secretary of National Trade Union Federation, said that it was a victory for survivors, affected families and workers. "We have been able to persuade the KiK to pay the compensation after lengthy negotiations under the supervision of ILO and support of the German government," Mansoor told ucanews.com.
"Under the agreement, KiK will start paying compensation to the heirs of each victim from January next year," he said, adding that each family would get approximately Rs18 million (around US$18,000).
Mansoor said that the federation was still pursuing anther legal case of "pain and suffering" against the German clothing brand. "We have not withdrawn this case and want to take it to its logical end," he said.
The trade union, he said, wanted Western governments to prosecute brands failing to ensure safety of workers at their contracted factories.
No lessons learnt
"Frankly speaking, no lesson has been learnt by the Pakistani factory owners and governments from the Baldia Factory disaster. No serious effort has been made to enforce safety laws at privately-run factories," said Mansoor.
"How much does a fire alarm cost? Not much. But still you won't find any active fire alarm system in most of the factories," he added.
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