Of work and ethics: Baldia families protest as KiK marks end of payments

Published: February 2, 2017
Victims’ association members gathered at KPC to criticise decision by KiK and Piler to leave them out of settlement negotiations. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

Victims’ association members gathered at KPC to criticise decision by KiK and Piler to leave them out of settlement negotiations. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

KARACHI: A Germany-based company partially accused of overlooking workers safety in the Baldia factory marked the completion of compensation payments on Thursday amid protests by families for being left out.

KiK Textilien faced a lot of heat from local and international organisations for failing to ensure safety standards at the Baldia garment factory, which was one of its suppliers. Over 250 workers lost their lives in a deadly fire that erupted in September 2012. KiK agreed to pay compensation to the victims’ families and Thursday marked the official completion of the payments. At a press briefing at Movenpick hotel, KiK Textilien und Non-Food Gmbh chief executive officer Patrick Zahn and Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) director Karamat Ali signed the papers. They contended that all the terms of the agreement reached between them, three months after the fire, were fulfilled as KiK agreed to pay long-term compensation worth $5.15 million.

“I want to express my deepest sympathy for the losses that so many families had to bear,” said Zahn. “Many workers still suffer from health impairments. No amount of money will bring back beloved family members. But yes, money can help to better deal with the consequences.” Zahn said that KiK was not legally liable but decided to pay the amount assuming moral responsibility. “We were well aware that the Pakistani social security system is not yet capable of covering the compensation in full,” he said.

Piler’s Ali broached on ‘arson’ as a possible cause of the fire. “Even if it was a terrorist attack though that there is no proof to it, the fact remains that people were trapped and would have been trapped regardless of the nature of the fire,” he said.

German consul-general Rainer Schmiedchen said, “I can hardly imagine anything horrible than a child, a son or a daughter, passing away before the parents.”

People should feel responsible to help with expertise, with compliance and with constant checking that those who produce what they buy everyday are not in danger during the production, during their daily work, advised Schmiedchen.

Others who spoke at the event include German Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Qazi Sajid Ali, Employers Federation of Pakistan president Majyd Aziz Balagamawala and International Labor Organization country director Ingrid Christensen.

Victims criticise KiK, PILER

Meanwhile, the families of the victims — Ali Enterprises Factory Fire Affectees Association (AEFFAA) — gathered at Karachi Press Club to protest the agreement.

“You are here in the very city where 260 people were killed just because of your’s and your partner’s negligence,” said AEFFAA senior vice-president Saeeda Khatoon, who lost her teenage son in the fire. “You don’t even care to come to us to offer condolences or at least include us in the process.”

A number of families took part in the protest and held placards inscribed with statements against the KiK management. They said that no NGO or any other organisation represented them apart from themselves. Saeeda complained they were not invited to the ceremony, claiming that it showed how much the company cared for the families. Though the 2012 KiK-Piler agreement was signed without taking the families on board, they remained quiet because they believed it was for them, she added.

Meanwhile, KiK senior media consultant Dr Dorothea Jestadt maintained that it was Piler’s decision to not invite the victims to the briefing. Piler’s Shujauddin said that they had some victims’ families with them but they were not associated with AEFFAA.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2017.

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