Ali Enterprises Fire 5th Anniversary Marks Minimal Compliance Progress

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Ali Enterprises
Photo credit: The Express Tribune

Five years have passed since the Ali Enterprises factory tragedy and despite compliance efforts, Pakistan’s garment sector remains unsafe for workers.

In 2012, a fire erupted at the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Karachi, Pakistan, killing more than 255 workers and injuring 57 others. Even though fire inspectors visited the factory less than one month before the fire and certified the building met international safety standards, most workers were unable to escape due to locked exit doors and barred windows.

Five years later, victims are still fighting for what they deem to be fair compensation as well as safeguards to protect the nation’s garment workers moving forward.

Dubbed one of the worst industrial tragedies in Pakistan, the Ali Enterprises fire raised several questions about the credibility of the nation’s factory monitoring system and anti-negligence efforts. Apparel exports are a boon for Pakistan’s economy but weak regulation and major corruption issues in the nation’s garment industry remain a concern.

[Read more about the economic health of the Pakistan textile industry: Pakistan Apparel Group Paints Poor Picture of Textile Export Sector]

According to labor organization Clean Clothes Campaign, Pakistan’s garment factories remain unsafe for workers.

“The fire painfully illustrated how corporate auditing systems were inadequate in identifying, documenting and remediating vital safety defects, thereby saving workers’ lives,” Clean Clothes Campaign said. “Despite this clear failure of the mainstream auditing and certification practice, the industry continues to rely on the same ineffective systems and auditing firms.”

Bangladesh endured a similar tragedy in 2013. Rana Plaza, an apparel factory that manufactured apparel for major retailers, collapsed, killing and injuring hundreds of garment workers. Following the incident, the nation’s officials immediately enacted a transparent auditing system for factories, which complied with international building safety standards. Though the remediation process in Bangladesh has been filled with controversy, five years after the Ali Enterprises fire, Pakistan has yet to develop a similar system or address issues that contributed to the horrific incident.

[Read more about safety in Bangladesh: New Report Casts Continued Doubt About the Safety of Bangladesh’s Garment Sector]

In February, Kik established a factory safety program in Pakistan, where the retailer dispatched a team of engineers to inspect 30 Pakistani supplier factories in Lahore, Karachi and Faisalabad, according to the company’s blog. As part of the program, the engineers studied factory construction plans, calculated building heights and permissible total weight, checked escape routes and performed fire protection exercises. Corrective measures were allegedly shared with factory owners, who are expected to make improvements by the end of the year.

Despite Kik’s attempt to remedy working conditions, Clean Clothes Campaign said the retailer’s program is “opaque”—and too reliant on outdated Pakistani building regulations.

Even though the Building Code of Pakistan hasn’t been revised since 2008, it’s Fire Safety Provisions were updated in 2016. The updated provisions span several structures, including apparel factories, and list new regulations on general inspections, fire protection systems, assessment of working conditions and maintenance of existing buildings. The provisions say minimum fire protection requirements, including fire alarms, must be in place as soon as possible—but factory owners are given up to twelve months to install these devices.

Victims are also awaiting payment for damage and rehabilitation costs—despite being promised fair compensation last year.

On Sunday, Ali Enterprises Factory Fire Affectees Association (AEFFAA) held a press conference and noted that over the past five years, victims and families haven’t been compensated fairly by responsible parties, The Express Tribune reported.

The ILO currently offers victims $26.57 dollars per month through the Sindh Employees Social Security Institution, which hasn’t been accepted by victims as fair payment. Last year, Kik paid $5.15 million as payment for victims and families to the ILO, following an agreement with Clean Clothes Campaign and IndustriALL Global Union.

Victims are not satisfied with the compensation amount though. Although talks have occurred to remedy the conflict between the ILO and victims, the ILO has not changed the compensation amount. Victims are suspicious about how the deal was brokered and the motivation behind the installment process. A lawsuit on behalf of the victims is still pending against KiK.

At the meeting, Nasir Mansoor, National Trade Union Federation Deputy General Secretary, called out employers and the government for not compensating victims fairly.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif promised to pay $2,846.71 in aid to victims and families, but they were allegedly never compensated, nor did they receive the jobs and land they were promised.

What’s more, The Express Tribune recently reported that charges were dropped against the Ali Enterprises factory owners and other government officials, including those associated with industrial zones and labor departments.

“Justice is for the wealthy and powerful, not the poor. All of us are part of a system where killing someone for the profit of another is apparently normal,” said victim Muhammad Zahid in an interview with The Express Tribune. “Five years on, the authorities concerned have yet to arrest the real culprits and then they brag about solving the case entirely.”

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