Reading through this, it reminds me somewhat of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire since the buildings were very crowded and people resorted to trying to leave through the upper floors of the building to escape the blaze since many of the exits were locked by the bosses. Unfortunately this is just another reminder of the sweatshops that exist in parts of the world for the benefit of easy business, and in the case of Pakistan, with textile factories set up as sweatshops.
More Than 300 Killed in Pakistani Factory Fires By ZIA ur-REHMAN, DECLAN WALSH and SALMAN MASOOD
KARACHI, Pakistan — Fire ravaged a textile factory complex in the commercial hub of Karachi early Wednesday, killing almost 300 workers trapped behind locked doors and raising questions about the woeful lack of regulation in a vital sector of Pakistan’s faltering economy.
It was Pakistan’s worst industrial accident, officials said, and it came just hours after another fire, at a shoe factory in the eastern city of Lahore, had killed at least 25.
Flames and smoke swept the cramped textile factory in Baldia Town, a northwestern industrial suburb, creating panic among the hundreds of poorly paid workers who had been making undergarments and plastic tools.
They had few options of escape — every exit but one had been locked, officials said, and the windows were mostly barred. In desperation, some flung themselves from the top floors of the four-story building, sustaining serious injuries or worse, witnesses said. But many others failed to make it that far, trapped by an inferno that advanced mercilessly through a building that officials later described as a death trap.
Rescue workers said most of the victims died of smoke inhalation, and many of the survivors sustained third-degree burns. As firefighters advanced into the wreckage during the day, battling back flames, they found dozens of bodies clumped together on the lower floors.
One survivor, Muhammad Aslam, said he heard two loud blasts before the factory filled first with smoke, then with the desperate screams of his fellow workers. “Only one entrance was open. All the others were closed,” he said at a hospital, describing scenes of panic and chaos.
Mr. Aslam, who was being treated for a broken leg, said he saved himself by leaping from a third-floor window.
Hundreds of anguished relatives gathered at the site, many of them sobbing as they sought news. Some impeded the rescue operation, and baton-wielding police officers tried to disperse the crowd but failed.
“If my son does not return, I will commit suicide in front of the factory,” one woman shouted before news cameras as relatives tried to console her.
The death toll rose quickly. By evening, the Karachi commissioner, Roshan Ali Sheikh, said that 289 people had died, most of them men. The provincial health minister, Sagheer Ahmed, put the toll at 248, which he said was the number of bodies accounted for at major hospitals. The number was expected to rise further.
In the shoe factory fire in Lahore, 25 people were reported killed and dozens wounded. Officials said that blaze had been set off by a generator that caught fire and ignited chemicals stored nearby in the factory, illegally located in a residential neighborhood. Most of the victims were men under 25.
The fires immediately revived long-running questions about the regulation of Pakistan’s manufacturing sector, centered in Karachi, and of the vital textiles industry in particular.
Textiles are a major source of foreign currency for Pakistan, accounting for 7.4 percent of its gross domestic product in 2011 and employing 38 percent of the manufacturing work force. Pakistani cotton products are highly sought in neighboring India and form the backbone of a burgeoning fashion industry that caters to the elite. President Asif Ali Zardari’s government has often called on the United States to drop tariff barriers to Pakistani textile imports, which it says would be preferable to traditional aid.
But the industry suffers from weak regulation, characterized by lax oversight and corruption. Business owners often put profits over safety, workers’ rights advocates say.
On Wednesday evening the police raided the home of the owner of the Karachi factory, Abdul Aziz, who appeared to have gone into hiding. According to an online business information service, his company, Ali Enterprises, manufactured denim, knitted garments and hosiery and had capital of between $10 million and $50 million.
His nephew, Shahid Bhaila, the chief executive officer of the company, was also being sought for questioning. The police said both men had been placed on the exit control list, barring them from leaving the country.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the most powerful political party in Karachi, announced three days of mourning. The city electricity company said it would cancel all outstanding bills for the families of those affected as a good will gesture.
The cause of the fire remained unclear. Geo News, the largest news channel, speculated that it had been started by extortionists, reporting that Mr. Aziz had previously faced a demand for a shakedown payment of more than $100,000, which he refused.
But others said an electrical fire was more likely. Wali Muhammad, a former electrical inspector, said that most accidental fires are caused by short circuits in equipment. But since 2003, he said, inspectors had been forbidden by law from visiting factories in Karachi and Punjab; it was not immediately clear why.
“This is criminal negligence,” he told Geo News, referring to the ban.
Another mystery surrounded the locked factory doors. Some survivors said the exits had been shuttered to prevent workers from slipping out early; others said it was the consequence of a recent break-in.
A majority of the garment workers came from Orangi Town, a poor working-class neighborhood in Karachi. Seventeen of the victims came from the same street, local news media reported.
The factory building suffered severe structural damage in the blaze, and officials feared it would collapse on rescue workers during the day.
While many distraught family members set up camp near the factory, others moved between city hospitals, seeking news of loved ones. One man said he was looking for his cousin, who earned $70 a month as a cashier. “He’s still missing. I’m afraid he may have been working in the basement,” the man said.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called on the government to mount an immediate investigation. “The head of the firefighting operations in Karachi has noted that the factory was dangerous, flimsily built and had no emergency exits,” said Zohra Yusuf, chairwoman of the rights group. “Why did all of that escape official attention earlier?”
Workplace safety is guaranteed under Pakistan’s Constitution, but labor leaders say that government oversight has crumbled rapidly in recent years, along with a general decline in governance.
Sharafat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research, a labor rights group, said that 151 workers died in accidents in 2011. The state was partly responsible for the deaths, he said, because its civil servants “silently and criminally allow violation of laws and regulations established to ensure health and safety provisions at work.”
Staring into the void...
9th September 2007
Sweat shops are good for business, so why spend money on things like benefits or....safety? Only the people in charge should be allowed those kinds of things.
"I'd shush her zephyr." ~ Zephyr.
There's some discussion in there about issues with regulation in Pakistan, as the government and local authorities often turn a blind eye to these poor working conditions so as to not chase away investors looking for cheap labor.
Question really is whether this'll spur on some reform, or if the businesses and government will weather the storm until people get ticked off over something else. Considering Pakistan's own political scene and problems with the northwest region, there's a lot that can overshadow this in time, unfortunately.
Some discussion on the labor laws in Pakistan and their lack of enforcement. This is unfortunately a common occurrence in developing countries hoping to get foreign investment, making it easy to do just about anything with the labor force.
The death toll from the fire that ripped through a Karachi garment factory this week currently stands at 289, making it the largest number of casualties in a single industrial incident in Pakistan's history. Later, a fire at an illegal shoe factory in Lahore killed 25, bringing the total of Pakistani deaths in industrial incidents that day to more than 300. As the country mourns the enormous loss of life, attention is turning to lax labour laws and the culture of corruption that allows the scant regulations that do exist to be flouted.
The facts of the Karachi fire are nightmarish. After the Karachi blaze started, workers were said to be unable to escape because the doors were locked. It is thought that this was to prevent them from leaving their shifts early, though it has also been speculated that it was because of a recent break-in. Allegedly, there was no emergency exit, with other doors blocked by piles of finished clothes, workers had to smash iron bars on the windows to jump several storeys to escape the flames, and unsafe chemicals in the rickety building made the smoke even more toxic. While the cause of the fire has not been confirmed, it has been blamed on faulty wiring. The owner of the factory looks to have gone into hiding. Although Pakistan's constitution guarantees the right to secure and humane working conditions, these twin tragedies have shown this right is meaningless. Ministers have been queuing up to offer their condolences and condemnation, with President Asif Ali Zardari announcing an investigation, and murder charges being filed against the factory owners for their "utter negligence".
But what exactly is the legal protection for workers in Pakistan? The only legislation on health and safety that exists is the Hazardous Occupation Rule 1963, under the 1934 Factories Act. The act also has a whole section, added in 1997, that is concerned with fire safety. Pakistan is a signatory to the International Labour Organisation's labour inspection convention, which commits the government to ensuring that workers are fully informed about their legal rights, and to enabling inspectors to report on problems that aren't covered by existing regulations.
So laws defending workers' rights do exist. But they are rendered redundant by a total failure of implementation. In fact, an executive order issued under the Punjab Industrial Policy 2003 actually abolished labour inspections, with the aim of "developing an industry and business-friendly environment" to attract fresh investment. The ban originated in Punjab (the province that is home to Lahore), and Sindh (where Karachi is situated), appears to have followed suit. Unsurpisingly, it was implemented under pressure from wealthy industrialists.
Pakistan is a country with an enormous gulf between rich and poor, and an undue amount of influence wielded by a small number of industrial families. The country functions on a deeply entrenched web of patronage and vested interests, meaning that there is little interest in workers' rights and little motivation to change the status quo. Corruption exists at every level, from bribing local officials to overlook an illegal building, to influencing government policy. The civilian regime is weak, and according to labour activists, regulation has deteriorated even further in the past few years along with a general decline in governance.
Textiles are big business in Pakistan, a major export that employs 38% of the manufacturing work force and accounted for 7.4% of GDP in 2011. Pakistani cotton is in high demand in neighbouring India, and underpins Pakistan's growing high-end fashion industry. But garment manufacturers claim that in order to compete with cheap products from Vietnam and India, they are forced to cut corners.
Putting profits over worker safety is a universal problem, and can be seen in sweatshops throughout the developing world, including in neighbouring India and Bangladesh. But the scale of this tragedy has shone a light on the lax oversight and flagrant disregard for human life that runs riot in Pakistan.
Authorities overlooking factory standards, building control, and fire safety have failed at every level. Will this disaster lead to lasting change and an end to the culture of impunity for wealthy businessmen? We must hope that the outraged declarations of politicians are not just empty words to be forgotten once compensation has been paid and the media storm dies down.
Emphasis on the last sentence.
I'm too cool to Post
28th July 2004
So long as there is a market for these goods, other developing economies to compete against for contracts and corrupt governments, it won't change. The most effective way I see to change these things is through the market, consumer outrage against companies that do business with these sweatshops and demand the enforcement of labor standards like has happened with Apple recently and Nike and others in the past. Unfortunately though, the consumer attention span is short.
Red Menace;5660738So long as there is a market for these goods, other developing economies to compete against for contracts and corrupt governments, it won't change. The most effective way I see to change these things is through the market, consumer outrage against companies that do business with these sweatshops and demand the enforcement of labor standards like has happened with Apple recently and Nike and others in the past. Unfortunately though, the consumer attention span is short.
Thing is though, even after Apple was told to pay more attention to these things, Foxconn is still going about its usual ways with only marginal improvements. I think that so long as these business are producing what they do for the national economy, particularly in this economic climate, there'll be less drive to actually "fix" anything. As far as most observers are concerned, they'll just chalk this up to the Pakistani corruption issues but I think avoid trying to see this problem in other similar countries.