KARACHI: Filling a vacuum left by the government and law enforcement agencies, labour rights organisations have now set up information points for victims of the Baldia factory fire incident.
Despite the passage of almost two months, no official record exists of the number of people who worked at the factory and how many of them were present when the fire broke out. The information cells would perhaps help nearly 70 families, who are awaiting the dreaded confirmation that their loved ones died in the fire.
“We believe that dozens of workers are still missing because their bodies have not been recovered, or [probably] melted due to the high temperature,” said Karamat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) at a press conference on Thursday.
A total of 259 people lost their lives in the country’s worst industrial disaster on September 11. Investigating officer Jahanzaib Khan had earlier told The Express Tribune that the actual death toll might be higher, as officials had not been allowed to visit the factory’s administration block, which survived the fire. Police have received over 100 complaints about people gone missing in the factory fire. Ali said that 61 workers were still missing, while Edhi morgue was awaiting DNA test results for 27 unidentified bodies.
He advised residents of industrial areas to approach the information cells to register complaints. The data collected by these cells will then be presented to the Sindh High Court in its hearings on the Baldia factory fire case. The factory’s owners, Abdul Aziz Bhailla, Arshad Bhailla and Shahid Bhailla, find themselves in the middle of a whirlwind of lawsuits, and are currently in judicial remand.
A tribunal set up by the provincial government to investigate the incident, has completed its report and submitted it to Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah. The government has yet to make that report public.
Ali claimed that an Italy-based company, RINA, had issued a SA8000 certificate to Ali Enterprises nearly 10 days before the fire broke out. SA8000 is a compliance certification that is granted after an audit of a company’s policies, procedures and documentation, to ensure a safe workplace. RINA has issued the same certificate to another 100 factories all over the country. “The government should inspect these factories because they might be vulnerable, and then and make its report public.” He also demanded that the Employees Old Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) and the Sindh Employees Social Security Institution provide details of the families it has compensated so far.
He also said that various international organisations were pressuring renowned branded clothing chains to ensure safe working environments for workers who manufacture their products. A German retail clothing chain, Kik, reportedly agreed to provide around $1.2 million in compensation to the families of the Baldia fire victims. The company had reportedly contracted Ali Enterprises with manufacturing jeans for it. An international organisation, Clean Cloth Campaign, has managed to secure compensation for Baldia fire victims, Ali said.
The information cells have been established in Baldia Town, SITE, Gulshan-e-Iqbal and Gulshan-e-Maymar.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 9th, 2012.