Berlin/Hamm, 22 May 2019 – The Higher Regional Court in Hamm, Germany, has rejected the Pakistani claimaints’ application for legal aid in the proceedings concerning a fire at a textile factory in Pakistan. The four claimants took their case to court in Germany to determine the share of responsibility borne by the clothing company for inadequate fire safety measures leading to the deaths of 258 workers.
“This decision means that important legal questions on the liability of companies for their foreign suppliers will not be examined by a German court,” says Remo Klinger, the lawyer representing the claimants. “As the factory’s main client, KiK shares responsibility for the fire safety deficiencies – and can now evade responsibility thanks to a lack of regulation.”
“The fire at the Ali Enterprises factory was not an isolated case. Human rights violations in supply chains are a structural global problem and despite this decision, we will continue our global fight for the rights of workers in the Global South,” commented Nasir Mansoor, Deputy General Secretary of the Pakistani National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) which worked closely with survivors and relatives of the victims of the factory fire.
Miriam Saage-Maaß from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) says: “The law urgently needs to be updated to reflect how globalized business operates. This is the only way to ensure that people affected by corporate rights violations get the access to justice they deserve.” Saage-Maaß says that Germany needs a fundmental reform of its corporate due diligence laws: “Voluntary undertakings are not enough to enforce human rights and labor rights. What we need is a strong and fair supply chain law.”
More legal clarity would have also enabled the claimants to take legal action against KiK earlier. The Regional Court in Dortmund dismissed the lawsuit in January 2019 on the basis that the claims were statute-barred. Prior to the legal action KiK agreed not to make arguments based on the statute of limitations but later relied on a legal opinion arguing that this promise was void. Thomas Seibert from medico international stresses: “We now need to get politicians to act to ensure that companies like KiK cannot shirk human rights in the pursuit of profit.”
Four of those affected by the fire in Pakistan took legal action in March 2015 on behalf of the Ali Enterprises Factory Fire Affectees Association (AEFFAA), the organization of survivors and relatives of those killed in the factory fire in 2011. The lawsuit – initiated by ECCHR and supported by medico international – was the first of its kind in Germany. The case aimed to clarify that transnational corporations bore responsibility for the working conditions in their subsidiary and supplier companies abroad.