Profits Before Safety in Pakistan's Factories - Twenty-seven-year-old Muhammad Arif works at a steel re-rolling mill in Lahore, capital of Pakistan’s northeastern Punjab province, producing steel ingots from scrap.
But even while export earnings increase, the country’s administrative machinery has been apathetic about working conditions in these factories, says Khalid Mahmood, director of the Labour Education Foundation (LEF) of Pakistan. He says this lack of concern over workers’ safety has dire, sometimes fatal, consequences.
Having visited Ali Enterprises – the apparel factory in Pakistan’s capital, Karachi, that went up in flames last September, killing 300 workers – he says he cannot fathom how the plant was awarded the prestigious SA8000 certification by Social Accountability International, a New York-based monitoring body tasked with assessing safety standards, just weeks before one of the worst recorded industrial disasters.
Reportedly caused by short-circuiting, the fire tore quickly through the factory, trapping workers behind locked doors.
Though the factory owners blamed the heavy death toll on the chaos that followed the blaze, experts say a lack of basic safety standards – like an absence of exit passages or adequate in-house emergency firefighting capabilities – was the primary factor behind the tragedy.
A good five months down the road, families of several victims are waiting to gain custody of their deceased loved ones: burnt beyond recognition, the bodies have not yet been identified, despite repeated DNA tests.