It has been a year since that terrible fire at the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Karachi’s Baldia Town, which killed at least 289 people, almost all of them labourers, at the factory unit. Smoke inhalation and the stampede that broke out in the building were the main causes of the deaths, with not enough fire exits present at the premises. Families of victims continue to suffer. Compensation given out cannot make up for the permanent loss of a wage-earner, or the grief death inflicts, especially when it comes in such terrible form.
It is also shocking that, even so long after the event, charges have still to be framed against the owner of the factory. This act of negligence is simply inexcusable. What is also unacceptable is the fact that we seem to have learned no lessons from that blaze and the aftermath of charred bodies it left behind. Even today, factories across the country remain as dangerous as ever, with no safety measures in place at many of them to guard either against fire or other hazards. Pakistan, as a country with one of the largest labour forces in the world, given the size of its population, needs to work urgently to remedy the situation. For this purpose, it must ratify the International Labour Organisation conventions that it has still to put its signatures to, and perhaps, still more importantly, ensure that existing labour rules are enforced.
While these rules exist on paper, in reality, they have no meaning. Labour inspections are carried out haphazardly, and in too many cases, those conducting them have been bribed by owners. Building rules are not adhered to and other basic hazard prevention measures ignored. The consequences of this can be disastrous. In fact, grave injuries and deaths occur at factories, furnaces and mills. Not all are reported. The situation needs to be tackled and steps taken to ensure that lives are protected. A tragedy like the one at the Baldia Town factory must never be repeated and this can happen only if labour rules are properly enforced in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2013.