Apparel Factory Fires Kill Hundreds In Pakistan, Safety Laws Citicized

Filed under: International,Labor,News,Working Conditions |

Pakistan’s worker safety laws have been criticized  after a garment factory fire in Karachi killed 258 workers on 11 September 2012. Another fire the same day in a shoe factory in Lahore, Pakistan, killed at least 25 workers.

The fires brought criticism of Pakistan’s government for failing to implement and enforce safety laws in the country’s many factories that make goods for international firms.

Murder charges have been filed against the Karachi apparel factory’s operators, according to published reports.

Between 300 and 400 workers were inside the factory when a boiler exploded. Flames then ignited chemicals stored there.

The factory made jeans and other clothing for export.

Workers had only one exit since the factory’s owner had locked all exit doors due to a recent theft, officials said.

Better worker safety laws needed: An apparal factory in Karachi, Pakistan

Better worker safety laws needed: An apparal factory in Karachi, Pakistan. Photo: UNDP/Mehreen Saeed

News accounts said some workers used sewing machines to break bars blocking the factory’s window. Many reportedly suffocated in a smoke-filled basement.

“Hundreds saw hell on earth,” read a banner headline on the front page of Dawn, Pakistan’s largest English-language newspaper.

On 11 September 2012 a fire at a shoe factory in Lahore killed 25 people.

The fire reportedly began started when workers started a generator after the electricity failed.

Sparks from the generator then ignited chemicals used to make shoes. The fire blocked the only exit, forcing firefighters to break through the factory’s walls to rescue workers.

“The tragedy that began to unfold on Tuesday has taken the entire country in an asphyxiating grip of grief mixed with rage,” said an editorial in Dawn. “Questions, though belated, are being asked about the non-implementation of safety standards and the massive corruption in government ranks which led to such flagrant violations of the law.”

Pakistan Needs Worker Safety Laws

Seiji Machida, Head of ILO’s SafeWork Programme, underlined the need for concrete action to prevent such tragedies.

“Protection of workers’ safety and health is a fundamental human right,” he said.

Tragedies like these, said Machida, are all too common in the region.

A toy factory fire in Thailand in 1993 killed 188 workers, who were mainly women.

“Almost 20 years after the tragedy in Thailand, we still see similar disasters,” said Machida. “The risk of death or injuries from fire hazards in the workplace, continue to be an important issue.”

“We call for action to realize decent work must be safe work for all.”

The ILO has adopted more than 40 standards specifically dealing with occupational safety and health, as well as over 40 Codes of Practice. Nearly half of the ILO’s instruments deal directly or indirectly with occupational safety and health issues.

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