Deadly Denim: Workers Burned Alive Making Jeans for Export

than 300 trapped workers were killed in two separate fires on the same day—289
workers in an apparel factory in Karachi and 25 workers in a shoe factory in
Lahore—a day Nasir Mansoor, leader of the National Trade Union Federation of
Pakistan (NTUF)—calls the “darkest and saddest day in the history of Pakistan’s
labor movement.”

Karachi factory, Ali Enterprises, operated illegally, without proper
registration. When fire broke out—reportedly for the fourth time within two
years—more than 600 workers were trapped. 
The main sliding door was locked to protect the merchandise; windows
were barred with iron grills; stairs and doorways were blocked with piles of
finished merchandise; and there were no emergency exits.  None of the workers had appointment letters
and most of them were contract employees hired by a third party.  As contract workers they were not entitled to
social security or workers’ compensation. 
None of these workers had the security to voice their fears about the risky
working conditions they found themselves in.

union, NTUF, demands the arrest of the factory owner for murder, and the
resignation of several government officials for severe negligence.  NTUF also demands compensation for the
families of deceased workers and for injured workers; inspections of all
factories in coordination with worker-representative bodies; the registration
of all factories under the Factory Act; the abolishment of the contract-workers
system; the issuance of appointment letters to all workers; and the provision
of social security, old-age benefits, and worker-welfare programs to all

too, are culpable for the deaths of the workers and must take responsibility
for workplace safety.  The recent fires
in Karachi and Lahore were not the first garment factory fires in Pakistan, not
even the first fire at Ali Enterprises. In fact, Mansoor notes that rarely a
month goes by without an explosion, fire or structural collapse in Pakistan’s
garment industry. However, when only one or two workers die on the job, these
incidents go unreported. “These factories are chemical bombs, waiting to
happen,” he says.

conditions in the Karachi and Lahore factories were reportedly typical of
garment factories in Pakistan, and the risk of fire is equally high in many
other facilities.  Alarmingly, apparel
factory fires appear to be increasingly globalized.  For many years, we heard mostly about fires
in Bangladesh where more than 100 reported factory fires since 1990 have killed
more than 750 workers.  Now, fires in
Pakistan are being reported, and just one day after the Pakistani fires, a fire
in a Moscow sweatshop killed 14 Vietnamese immigrants who were trapped behind a
door that was locked and barred with a sledgehammer from the outside.

fires are not the product of exceptional circumstances, isolated examples of
especially greedy or negligent owners, or freak accidents that strike much like
natural disasters with nobody responsible. 
The fires are the product of the failings of the global apparel
industry.  They are the logical result of
the lethally low prices buyers offer the factories and the lightning-quick
deliveries they require.  When factory
owners are squeezed by the buyers they are not going to invest in proper
factories with functioning fire escapes and sprinkler systems and worker training
on proper procedures in case of fires. On the contrary, they are going to rush
to get orders done as cheaply as possible, no matter the cost to workers.  If the buyers require compliance with labor
and safety standards, the factories will find ways to create the impression of
compliance because real compliance is not possible under the business terms
they are given.

In the
case of Ali Enterprises, the owner, one of the country’s major exporters of
garments, was rushing to get an order ready in time for year-end shopping and
was making his employees work overtime to avoid the high cost of air freight.  The owner had reportedly obtained a fake
certificate from an audit company
to satisfy buyers abroad that the factory met
required safety standards. Workers told The New York Times that managers had
forced them to lie about working conditions to auditors representing foreign
buyers.  Do not complain or you will lose
your job, they were told.  This is typical
in Pakistan, and typical in the global apparel industry.

horror of this Pakistani fire is yet one more wake-up call for the brands and
retailers that cheap products come at a steep price for workers—an
unconscionably steep price.  It is time
for the brands to put workers’ lives ahead of brand image, and promote real
solutions.  The best model for real fire
safety in the global apparel industry is one that has: independent factory
inspections; freedom for workers to report on dangers in their own workplace
and to have a voice in their workplace; a binding commitment from brands to work
with suppliers to implement the program; and fair prices for factories so that
they can invest in safety.  So far only the Phillips-Van Heusen
Corporation and the German retailer, Tchibo, have agreed to adopt such a
program in Bangladesh.  We call on all
brands and retailers to sign on quickly and replicate the program in other




re: Deadly Denim: Workers Burned Alive Making Jeans for Export

its very sad incident in pakistan history with big negligence of owner of factory and all government department... still peoples are surrounding for search their beloved one dead body.. Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum very sympathetic with families of workers and appeared as a one of petitioner against owners of garment factory both in lower and high court.
Saeed Baloch
General Secretary
Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum