The retailer, KiK, has been taken to court in Dortmund for not ensuring labourers’ rights at the factory
KARACHI: Notwithstanding simply the cause of the fire that claimed the lives of 259 labourers three years ago, the factors of poor working conditions and a lack of safety arrangements cannot be ruled out, asserted a delegation of German rights activists on Tuesday.
“The cause of the fire does not take away the fact that fire safety was missing [at the factory]… workers should have been able to leave the building safely,” said the two-member delegation, comprising Dr Carolijn Terwindt and Dr Miriam Saage-Maass, of the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.
The rights activist duo was addressing the media at the Karachi Press Club regarding a case of the victims of the Baldia factory fire filed in the High Court of Dortmund. According to them, the foreign court is considering the case against the buying agent of the ill-fated company, KiK, for neglecting labourers’ rights.
Baldia factory fire: Victims’ families to pursue case against German buyer
They were visiting Pakistan to verify the facts for themselves and to update the victims about the case status in the German court. During their stay, they met the direct and indirect victims of the fire and recorded testimonies of the injured and other eyewitnesses.
“The victims do not only demand compensation from the KiK,” said Dr Terwindt. “They want the retailer to issue an apology to all the survivors and to the families who lost their loved ones in the fire. Also, the company is pressed to commit that in the future, it would not work with any entity where the rights of labourers are not respected,” he said.
In March 2015, two months after the unearthing of a stark joint interrogation report, the KiK had submitted a legal reply to the Dortmund court, contending that the fire was an act of arson so it could not be held accountable for it. The retailer also submitted some audit reports of the Ali Enterprise, showing that all safety measures were taken there.
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Since the case has made headlines across the world, the German government, its people and others are keenly interested in this matter and hope that such incidents do not occur again, they maintained.
“In view of the ECCHR, the case of Ali Enterprise is not just a tragic industrial incident. It is the deadly result of a system of international textile production which does not take workers and human rights into account sufficiently,” the duo added.
A similar case is being prepared against an Italian firm, RINA, which audited the ill-fated factory and issued it a clearance certificate, despite so many shortcomings that led to the deaths of workers.
The ECCHR is working with the National Trade Union Federation in Pakistan on the case. The NTUF has provided the German activists with all the case-related documents and reports on what the case is going through in the country’s courts.
According to the German duo, it is a groundbreaking case because for the first time, a retail brand is facing a legal case in a European court for labour rights violations committed outside the continent.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 28th, 2015.