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HRCP slams deaths in factory fires

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed grief and grave concern at the death of at least 250 people in devastating fires that gutted two factories in Karachi and Lahore and demanded immediate attention to ensuring safe working conditions for factory workers across the country.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Commission said: “HRCP is deeply saddened and acutely concerned both by the high toll of life claimed by fires at factories in Lahore and Karachi on Tuesday as well as the factors that contributed to the tragic incidents. According to media report, the death toll at a garments factory in Karachi stands at around 230 and many people are injured or unaccounted for. It appears that only a few workers in the factory at the time of the fire could get out safely. There were 35 workers in the shoe factory in Lahore when the fire erupted there. At least 25 of them have now been confirmed dead and all of the rest are injured.

“The government has announced probes into the incidents but many of the factors that contributed to the fires and the high death toll are known to most people who have even a casual interest in working conditions at such establishments. It is already known that absence of multiple exit-entry points prevented the workers from escaping the infernos in time. The factory in Lahore only had one entry/exit point. In Karachi, many workers suffered broken bones as they jumped out of windows of the four-storey building to save their lives. Highly inflammable substances were stored without safety measures and lack of fire alarms and fire-fighting equipment aggravated the situation.

“While the government probes the causes of these terrible incidents, it should also investigate and share with the people why these factories were allowed to operate without observing safety measures. Why were these factories not challaned for unsafe storage of substances? Why had no one paid attention to lack of multiple entry/exit points and absence of safe evacuation plans in case of emergency?

“It is obvious that in both cases the proprietors had prioritized profit above all else and showed utter disregard for workers’ safety, but was the government not supposed to watch out for the interests of the workers including safe working conditions for them? The head of the fire-fighting operations in Karachi has noted that the factory was “dangerous”, “flimsily built” and that there were no emergency exits. Why did all of that escape official attention earlier?

“The entire fire-fighting fleet of Karachi, including those from the navy, the air force and the Karachi Port Trust, struggled for long hours to douse the flames. Their efforts are laudable but the capacity to fight fires even in the country’s biggest city is questionable at best. Things are worse elsewhere in Pakistan. It is hoped that the official probes will look at that aspect as well.

“Our heart goes out to the victims and their families. We hope and demand that the government will announce adequate compensation for the families of the deceased and provide the best medical care possible to the injured. HRCP also calls upon the government to initiate criminal proceedings against the factory owners and ensure in consultation with workers’ representative, safe working conditions at the workplace as well as initiate effective monitoring of workplaces by inspectors to prevent such tragic incidents in the future.”

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