Well, this is a very sad post to write. It’s only appropriate for us to acknowledge the horrifying events of the past 24 hours in Pakistan and Russia, all involving the massive and senseless loss of life of workers in the garment industry.
Yesterday, close to 300 people died as a result of unsafe working conditions in three separate incidents in these countries. Factory fires swept through the places of work of these people, devastating everything and killing many. No official statements have yet been made about the causes of the blazes but various witness statements have pointed to many faults with the standards of safety in these three work places.
The largest fire, in a garment factory in Lahore struck the nightshift workers and swept through the factory swiftly. Many people were killed by smoke inhalation and immolation, but also hampered by a lack of emergnecy exits and steel bars covering windows on the lower floors: escaping from the upper windows also injured many people as they fell from such a great height. The death toll has currently reached 261. It has been mooted that faulty electrics were to blame and, combined with a packed factory with little ventilation, it has caused one of the highest factory death tolls Pakistan has seen in the past 10 years. In a comment to the Pakistan International News, Abdus Salam, a doctor at Karachi’s Civil Hospital called the factory “dangerous, saying it had been flimsily built, lacked emergency exits and had developed cracks in the walls, which was also putting rescue workers at risk. “It was packed like a box with little room left for ventilation. There were no emergency exits,” Salim said.” (http://bit.ly/NnJdTq)
(image from Reuters)
Just hours before this in another part of Lahore, 21 people were killed in a shoe factory. Again, a lack of emergency exits, plus inadequate storage of flammable substances were blamed. Sadly, we are again made aware of the plight of scores of young people, migrating to cities and industrial centres for economic reasons to try and improve the lot of themselves and their families: “Most of the dead, between 14 and 30 years of age, were labourers from different parts of Punjab who were trapped inside the 10-marla factory because there was only one entry-exit point.” (http://bit.ly/QELfOP) Read more here.
In Russia, also, there is a huge migrant worker population. People face unregulated conditions and abusive employment practices on a daily basis in an attempt to make a living and send money home to their families. The 14 Vietnamese workers trapped inside a Russian clothing factory yesterday and burnt to death were allegedly locked into their place of work from the outside, according to one news report (http://bit.ly/NnJdTq). It is unimaginable that people the world over are forced to work in such dangerous conditions with such potentially horrific consequences because they are driven by poverty, food prices and a lack of regulation in the countries in which they work. (image from Moscow Times)
It really brings home to us the seriousness of the work that Labour Behind the Label and other organisations are doing to support workers in creating unions, improve legislation and reform wages and working practices. Without a serious revolution from brands and consumers workers will continue to be exploited and remain at risk. Action is needed by brands as well as governments and employers to upgrade the buildings, train workers and management and importantly ensure workers can freely organize and speak out when safety regulations are ignored. Victims also need to have access to the best possible medical care and to fair compensation. Unions and labour groups in Pakistan have announced major protests today and tomorrow. The Clean Clothes Campaign (LBL’s umbrella organisation in Europe) is working with partners on the ground to obtain more information, and calls upon all brands sourcing from the suppliers in question to come forward.