KARACHI: The German legal advisers who are helping the families of the Baldia factory fire victims in pursuing the case against the German brand KIK on Tuesday said that evidence related to extortion threat and sabotage as the cause of the fire would not affect the case.
Their focus was lack of fire safety measures at the factory that resulted in the over 250 deaths, said the legal advisers belonging to the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) while addressing a press conference at the Karachi Press Club to update the families and the media on the case they are pursuing in Dortmund, Germany.
The team is currently in Karachi to attend a meeting of the Baldia Factory Fire Affectees Association.
Legal director at the ECCHR Dr Miriam Saage said a case against KIK was filed in the high court of Dortmund in March. Soon afterwards, KIK filed a reply in the court. “Now, we are preparing a rejoinder for which there will be a hearing before the high court in the spring of 2016. Four petitioners filed a case demanding compensation from the German brand KIK, and we are preparing to appear before the court,” Dr Miriam added.
At the same time, in Karachi, a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) formed by the Sindh government to probe the factory fire, shared in its report that the fire was the result of sabotage over non-payment of extortion money. Ruling it out, Dr Miriam said: “The cause of the fire should not be used to ignore the fact that fire safety at the factory was missing.” Sitting next to her, Dr Miriam’s partner and legal adviser in the case against KIK, Carolijn Terwindt, said the “reliance of the law enforcement authorities on hearsay has compromised the eligibility of the evidence, which in turn can’t be used to affect the case.”
She argued that the focus should be on why there were no fire extinguishers and safety alarms at the factory.
Speaking about the case against KIK, she said: “Their own workers in Boehnen, Germany, have gone on strike demanding better wages, which makes our argument against the brand stronger.”
Taking the discussion forward, general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation Nasir Mansoor said “if the owners were getting extortion threats why didn’t they inform the law enforcement agencies and let them deal with it rather than waiting it out until they torched the factory. The owners are trying to hide behind the extortion story.”
At the same time, he said no matter what the repercussions the owners were warned of, the workers at the factory should have been able to exit the factory safely. “It was the non-existence of the safety measure that resulted in the deaths of 260 workers,” he added.
Dr Miriam said the four petitioners did not only demand compensation, “rather an apology to all the families of the victims and survivors. Also, we want them to issue a statement categorically stating that they would only work with factories or industries that fulfill workers rights at their facilities or factories.”
A similar petition was also filed against the social audit authority in Italy, RINA, in September. The ECCHR members said RINA had “so far declined to accept the claims for which we will file a lawsuit against them as well and share the details with the media.”
Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2015