Paying the price for clothing factory disasters in south Asia
Pakistan factory fire victims sue KiK
Justice, not hand-outs. Liability, not voluntary giving. These are the calls made by survivors and relatives of victims of the fatal fire at the Ali Enterprises textile factory in Karachi (Pakistan). 260 people were killed in the fire on 11 September 2012, a further 32 were injured. German discount clothing retailer KiK was by its own admission the factory’s main customer.
Stage win in proceedings against KiK before German Court
On 13 March 2015, four of those affected by the disaster filed a compensation claim against KiK at the Regional Court in Dortmund. Muhammad Hanif, Muhammad Jabbir, Abdul Aziz Khan Yousuf Zai and Saeeda Khatoon are all members of the Baldia Factory Fire Association, the organization run by those affected by the fire, and are seeking 30,000 euro each in compensation.
On 30 August 2016 the court issued an initial decision: the court has accepted jurisdiction and granted legal aid to the claimants to cover their costs. This decision is a first step towards dealing with human rights violations by German companies abroad before German courts.
Press Release KiK 30 August 2016PR_KiK_Pakistan_Lawsuit_Costs_20160830.pdf (225.8 KiB)
Agreement in ILO proceedings
Shortly afterwards, on 10 September 2016, KiK announced in the course of a dialogue moderated by the International Labour Organization that the company was prepared to pay 5.15 million US dollars in pecuniary damages to those impacted by the fire. However, KiK continued to refuse to pay damages for pain and suffering or to officially acknowledge its share of the responsibility, as called for by those affected in the lawsuit they filed in Germany.
ECCHR supports Baldia Factory Fire Affectees Association
On 13 March 2015, four of those affected by the disaster filed a compensation claim against KiK at the Regional Court in Dortmund. Muhammad Hanif, Muhammad Jabbir, Abdul Aziz Khan Yousuf Zai and Saeeda Khatoon are all members of the Baldia Factory Fire Association, the organization run by those affected by the fire, and are seeking 30,000 euro each in compensation. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), medico international and the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) from Pakistan are assisting with the case, which was filed by Berlin lawyer Dr. Remo Klinger.
Case Report: KiK/PakistanKiK_Pakistan_CaseReport.pdf (360.6 KiB)
Video: "Pakistan - Cheap clothes, fatal working conditions"
Legal Opinions on the KiK case in Germany (English and German)
The court case received support from a number of outside experts. Law professors from the Essex University Business and Human Rights Project (UK) submitted a legal opinion on KiK’s liability. An expert opinion on social auditing was contributed by Dr. Gisela Burckhardt from FEMNET, a German organization that specifically supports women in the garment industry in Asia. Finally, Ms. Zehra Khan, the Education and Research Secretary of the National Trade Union Federation in Karachi contributed with an expert opinion based on worker interviews on the actual working conditions in the Ali Enterprises factory before the fire.
Textile production in South Asia: European companies have to take responsibility
“As in many south Asian countries, the workers in Karachi have paid for KiK’s clothes with their health and their lives,” says ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck. Hanif survived the fire but suffered serious injuries. Jabbir, Zai and Khatoon each lost a son in the fire. “They want justice to finally be done.” The case against KiK should make it clear that transnational corporations’ responsibilities also extend to the working conditions in their subsidiary and supplier companies abroad. “KiK tried to silence the survivors with charity hand-outs. Now they are fighting back. With their case they are sending a strong signal against the policies of impunity,” says Thomas Seibert, south Asia coordinator at medico international.
Liability of Social Auditors in the Textile IndustryPolicy Paper_Liability of Social Auditors in the Textile Industry_FES_ECCHR_2016.pdf (320.0 KiB)
Justice instead of short term payments
KiK made relief payments in the immediate aftermath of the fire. But the company subsequently refused to pay compensation for the loss of income from many family breadwinners. After two years of negotiations an unsatisfactory compensation offer was tabled in December 2014. “KiK made it clear: there would be no compensation payments,” says lawyer Klinger. KiK was unwilling to commit to specific sums for long-term compensation. The Baldia Factory Fire Affectees Association rejected the offer and selected the four claimants.
Transnational legal proceedings in Italy and Pakistan
ECCHR also supports the Affectees Association in the criminal proceeding into the auditing company RINA in Italy and in the criminal proeccedings against the owners of the Ali Enterprises factory in Pakistan.