KARACHI: As the Baldia factory fire tragedy is being commemorated on its anniversary, preparations are under way to file a lawsuit against the German firm, KIK, which was the main buyer of garments manufactured in the factory.

This was stated by deputy general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation of Pakistan Nasir Mansoor while addressing a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Wednesday.

He said: “Through the cases which will be filed by the families of the victims in court, we want to ensure that factories are not used to violate a worker’s rights.”

Speaking about the families and the cases for which they were being helped by lawyers, general secretary of the Home Based Women Workers Federation Zahra Khan said that five German lawyers came to Karachi on Aug 27 to investigate the case and help the families file cases in a German court against the firm, KIK, which got 95 per cent of its garments from the Ali Enterprises.

“Eleven people have submitted their documents, and out of them four will be the first ones to file a case in the coming days. We’ll see how their cases proceed and from there onwards we’ll bring in more people, who have been waiting for long term compensations. Some will also appear as witnesses.” she added.

This was the second time that the lawyers had visited the city apart from a visit that was made in January this year, Ms Zahra said.

In May this year, the European Commission for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) filed a petition in the Sindh High Court to “broaden the investigations” taking into account the role played by international companies such as the KIK and social certificate auditing authority, RINA.

Of the two, Nasir Mansoor said, “KIK came forward to help people out in the compensation. But the second phase of the agreement with them, which included long term compensations for the families, is not being respected. For that purpose a case is being filed against them too by the counsel for the factory fire victims. On the other hand, RINA so far has not uttered a single word about announcing compensation for the families.”

The cost of the cases is being handled by a German NGO, Medico International and ECCHR.

The factory in Baldia Town, Ali Enterprises, caught fire on Sept 11 in 2012. It is considered the worst industrial fire in Pakistan to date.

As the details about the incident unfolded, it came to the fore that the four exits at the factory were locked. The windows were bolted as a result of which a majority of the workers died first due to suffocation and secondly due to the fire that left hundreds unidentified.

“The incident is an example of the working conditions in factories. These labourers worked under severe conditions. They were not recognised by a labour organisation and being a union member meant facing bullying and an eventual termination of job by the employers,” said Nasir Mansoor.

Another senior labour activist Usman Baloch said: “Pakistan needs to uphold workers rights since it has got a GSP plus status in European countries. It was granted for the simple reason to ensure human rights in our country. It is also a cause for worry that out of the 60 million workers in Pakistan, only 2.8 per cent are recognised by trade unions.”

Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2014