Pakistan fire victims still wait for justice two years on

September 10, 2014

Today, 11 September 2014, marks the second anniversary of the fatal fire at Ali Enterprises garment factory in Karachi, Pakistan, which killed at least 254 garment workers and injured a further 55 people. The Ali Enterprises tragedy has much in common with the Tazreen fire and the Rana Plaza collapse that followed it: in all three tragedies workers were killed because factories were unsafe and in all three cases workers and their families continue to wait for full and fair compensation.

Auditing negligence
Just weeks before the fire, Ali Enterprises passed an audit on behalf of Italian social audit firm RINA, and received a SAI (Social Accountability International) 8000 certification.   Ali Enterprises received this certification even though it had no emergency exits, barred windows, was not registered and had an entire mezzanine floor illegally built on.

Investigations into how this factory managed to get such a well-recognised certification showed that the audit had been subcontracted by SAAS (SAI’s commercial auditing arm) to Rina, an Italian auditing company, who then subcontracted it to another firm in Pakistan. The auditor apparently missed mezzanine floor, never asked to see registration documents and failed to notice the fire certificates were issued by a company that never existed. Since the fatal fire on 11 September 2012, neither Rina nor SAI have ever acknowledged any responsibility for their failure to properly audit Ali Enterprises. Neither firms has yet taken any steps to compensate the workers for their extreme negligence.

In every country where garments are produced brands and retailers rely on auditing companies to check the building and certify that the conditions in the factories they use are safe for workers. Unfortunately, the auditing process experienced by Ali Enterprises in Pakistan is not an exception but the norm in the global garment industry.  Audits are almost always carried out by unqualified inspectors, with no experience or knowledge of building safety, and workers or their unions are almost never asked for their opinions.

Corporate responsibility is now a subcontracted and highly profitable industry, and the workers they are supposed to serve are entirely excluded. These certification and audit companies are never held to account for their failures.

Workers are paying for this with their lives.

No Access to Justice
The families of those killed at Ali Enterprise share another fate with those families who lost loved ones at Tazreen and Rana Plaza: two years on, the victims’ families and the survivors are still waiting for the compensation they are entitled to.

In December 2012, following a large public campaign, the German company KIK, who is the only known buyer at Ali Enterprises factory, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER).  In this MOU, KIK committed to paying an initial US$1 million for immediate relief, and to engage in negotiations surrounding the payment of compensation.  Despite the existence of this MOU and the terms it commits KIK to, KIK continues to delay the negotiation process for compensation.

None of the affected families of these three tragedies – Ali Enterprises, Tazreen, and Rana Plaza – have been able to access justice through national law.  Despite international campaigns, high level negotiations and even calls from the governments of major European countries for brands to pay what they owe, workers continue to wait for justice.  The catastrophic nature of these three disasters galvanised media attention and public pressure.  But workplace deaths happen regularly in factories around the world and most of them never make the headlines.  For those workers whose deaths go largely unnoticed, there is little hope of ever getting the compensation they deserve.

Compensation is a right. Workers shouldn’t have to depend on campaigners to shame a company into doing the right thing. We need change. Workers who suffer at the hands of British companies abroad must be granted access to remedy and justice here in the UK.

This is why Labour behind the Label is supporting Traidcraft’s Justice Campaign, which is calling on the UK government to:

  • Make it possible to bring criminal prosecutions in the UK against British companies that abuse human rights in other countries
  • Remove the barriers which stop people from poor communities bringing civil cases in the UK courts
  • Ensure that companies can also be held to account effectively outside the court system.

The principles of justice and accountability must be embedded into the foundation of the global garment industry if we are to realise positive systemic change.  Through voicing our collective concern and desire for change, we can build a global movement which has the power to fix fashion.

Stand up for justice and take action today.