The devastating inferno at a garment factory in Baldia Town, which claimed the lives of over 250 workers, raises some pressing concerns over the credibility of international safety certifications granted to local companies.
Italy-based company RINA had issued a SA8000 certificate to Ali Enterprises just three weeks before the fire broke out on September 11, 2012. SA8000 is a compliance certification granted after an audit of a company’s policies, procedures and documentation, to ensure a safe workplace.
“We have been continuously voicing concerns about local factories not following the labour laws of Pakistan completely,” Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) Executive Director Karamat Ali told The Express Tribune.
He added the practice of acquiring such certifications was a good one, but did not really reflect the working conditions of these factories.
“If Ali Enterprises was following basic safety standards, the fire would not have resulted in the loss of precious lives.”
Ali said Piler was contacted by RINA after the disaster. “We told them (RINA) that they are equally responsible for the incident. It shows that SA8000 was not being implemented at the factory, and raises serious doubts about the authenticity of these international certifications.”
Ali Enterprises was part of the Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (PRGMEA), which has over 600 members.
PRGMEA officials said their investigations regarding Ali Enterprises are ongoing and that they are also conducting audits of other factories which are members of the association to ensure safety and other standards are being followed.
Organisations fighting for labour rights, however, are wary of the government’s efforts regarding ongoing investigations, which are being spearheaded by retired judges. Piler has demanded the government to form a commission of sitting judges to probe the matter.
Organisations working for labour rights in Europe and the United States are also in touch with their counterparts in Pakistan such as Piler. They believe RINA is using delaying tactics in the Ali Enterprises case.
RINA did not respond to queries until the filing of this story.
A global organisation called The Clean Clothes Campaign says that KIK, a low cost German brand is not sharing information with worker’s rights organizations. KIK is the main buyer of Ali Enterprises but the factory was also making garments for other buyers.
KIK recently announced its decision to pay $2,000 as compensation to the families of each victim of the fatal accident, but activists say it needs to do more.
Who will watch the watchdogs?
The SA8000 certification process is managed by the Social Accountability Accreditation Services (SAAS), an independent body formed by Social Accountability International (SAI).
SAI is a non-governmental organisation working to promote workers rights in several countries. Currently, 21 certification bodies are accredited by SAAS to conduct SA8000 certifications, and RINA, Italy is one of them.
RINA has its office in Karachi and has so far certified
100 companies in Pakistan. It has, however, stopped giving new certifications after the fire.
The accreditation process is similar to licensing, wherein SAAS evaluates a firm’s capacity to thoroughly audit a workplace.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2012.