As the bereaved families of the Baldia factory fire lose hope of getting justice for losing over 250 relatives in the country’s worst industrial disaster, the legal eagles of Italy, France and Spain are eyeing the international certifying body to determine its role in the tragedy.
The legion of lawyers – Stefano Bertone, Marco Bona, Jean-Pierre Bellecave and Carlos Villacorta – who have successfully won compensation for the survivors of at least 40 aviation disasters, plan to sue an Italy-based firm, Rina Services, which had declared that the international standards for workers were enforced at Ali Enterprises.
In August 2012, Rina Services had certified Ali Enterprises and the factory under the SA-8000 standard after an audit, which started on June 22, that year and was completed by July 5. A 10-member team spent the same number of days on the site and issued a certificate on August 20.
Twenty-one days later, a massive fire swept through the double-storey building of the garment factory, killing at least 259 workers in Baldia industrial area on September 11. “We don’t know what ignited the fire…but we understand that it was a cage not a place of work,” claimed Bertone, an Italian lawyer, during a visit to Karachi. “The Baldia factory looked like a cage made with cement and iron.”
The legion has already filed a case against Rina to obtain compensation for the families of the 1,000 people who lost their lives when the alSalam Boccaccio 98 sank in the Red Sea in 2006. Now, they plan to take Rina to the Italian court to fight the case for compensation to the Baldia factory workers. The lawyers spent five days in the city during which they visited the gutted factory from outside, met the survivors and bereaved families of deceased workers, as well as, the lawyers waging a legal battle against the factory owners and the government functionaries in Pakistan.
“Had Rina Services – which was supposed to get the laws on workers’ safety strictly implemented – not certified the factory, it wouldn’t have been able to operate anymore and the lives of 259 workers could have been saved,” Bertone added. The aim of the litigation is to get compensation for the heirs of the victims through a civil suit under the same standards as applicable to European victims of industrial tragedies, he added. The group will initiate the case in collaboration with local trade unions and workers rights groups, such as the National Trades Union Federation and the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research. “We are all citizens of the world and we believe in the right of equality without any difference in terms of borders, nationalities and wealth,” he explained.
Moreover, Bellecave believed that the certification delivered by Rina favoured the disaster, adding that the certification was a guarantee that the safety conditions were met. “Here, the process of certification led to the exact opposite result,” he said. “For this, Rina is probably the most important liable of the case.”
Following the incident, Karachi police had booked the factory owner, Abdul Aziz Bhaila, and his sons, Arshad and Shahid, under murder and criminal negligence charges, which were later dropped. This benefited the factory owners, who were later bailed out by the Sindh High Court.
“I’m strongly against death penalty but if 275 people die you have to prosecute those who you believe are liable for homicide, even if it is involuntary,” said Bertone. The Express Tribune tried to get in touch with Rina Services to know their stance on the issue but it failed to receive any response.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2013.