In a devastating accident, 300 Pakistani factory workers have been killed in a workplace fire in Karachi. The fire was the second in as many days, with the 300 deaths added to the 25 workers killed in a similar incident the day before in a shoe factory in eastern Lahore.
While the international community has offered an outpouring of sympathy for the families of the victims, reaction has been far more scathing towards the Pakistani industry as a whole.
In what the New York Times called a ‘woeful lack of regulation,’ the Karachi-based textile fire had only one access route, with survivor Muhammad Aslam attesting to the fact that all other exits were locked and windows barred. This essentially turned the site into a death trap for hundreds of innocent workers.
“Only one entrance was open,” says Aslam. “All the others were closed.”
Horrifically, some workers were forced to jump from the top of the four-storey building in hopes of escaping the inferno. Some leapt to their deaths while others sustained serious injuries.
The fire was one of Pakistan’s worst-ever industrial accidents. While the cause of the fire is still unknown, speculation has run rampant with factors, with the leading theory being that a faulty electrical switch led a boiler to explode. According to former electrical inspector Wali Muhammad, a ban passed in 2003 stopping inspectors from visiting both Karachi-based and Punjabi factories amounted to ‘criminal negligence.’
The global community has called on the government and industry to undertake a full investigation, with the Pakistani industry now under a bright and unwanted spotlight. The nation’s own Human Rights Commission has called for immediate investigation by the government.
‘The head of the firefighting operations in Karachi has noted the factory was dangerous flimsily building and had no emergency exits,” says Zohra Yusuf, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “Why did all of that escape official attention earlier?”
That is a question that will continued to be asked until the cause of the horrific fire is found and action is taken to protect workers from similar disasters in the future.