The workers of the ill-fated garments factory, where a massive blaze killed almost 300 people, already faced the risk of dying in a few years as they were exposed to the hazards of manual sandblasting denim being practiced there, The News has learnt.
Sandblasting is used to gives jeans and other clothing a distressed, already-worn look. The technique has long been banned in many European countries and the US as it causes an incurable form of lung cancer.
Manual sandblasting involves firing minute particles of silica on high pressure at denim. Factory workers, who inhale the silica dust, are in danger of developing silicosis, a potentially fatal pulmonary disease.
The Clean Clothes Campaign, an international pressure group, has been running a drive to ban sandblasting in the production of denim garments.
It says that the technique is being practiced in developing countries including Pakistan and Bangladesh.
“Garments for a European brand were processed at the fire-hit factory,” Nasir Mansoor, the deputy general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), told The News.
“The authorities concerned should investigate this and sue the European brand in an international court of law for having its products manufactured here without taking the working conditions at the factory into consideration.”
He said if the law suit against the brand is won, the heirs of each person killed in the factory fire could be compensated with up to Rs3 million.
“The interests of foreign buyers and the local industrialists are the same and they don’t care about the working conditions at the factories here.”
Mansoor said everything was shown to be meeting the required standards on paper, but practically, the foreign buyers do not even bother to pay a brief visit to the factories where their products are manufactured.
“A 30-minute visit can reveal that the labourers are provided with no facility at the factories that the owners claim in the documents.”
The NTUF office-bearer also lamented that the owners of the factory, Ali Enterprises, were granted bail before arrest.
“Recently, a court had awarded 490 years imprisonment to six labourers who were charged with trying to set ablaze a factory in Faisalabad. But the owners of the factory, where around 300 people were killed due to the inhuman working conditions there, have been granted bail before arrest.”
Different organisations representing labourers have decided to stage a joint rally on Saturday (today) at 4pm from Ghani Chowrangi in SITE to the fire-hit factory.
The Awami Party, the Labour Party, the Workers’ Party and the NTUF held a meeting at the Karachi Press Club on Thursday and decided to hold the rally to express solidarity with the victims of the tragedy. The meeting was presided over by Yusuf Masti Khan, a veteran left-wing leader.
Representatives of the Pakistan Workers’ Federation, the Railways Workers’ Union, the Railway Mahnatkash Union, the Home-Based Women Workers’ Federation, the Now Community, the Communist Party, the National Students’ Federation, the Aurat Foundation, the CFD, the Kohinoor Chemical Union, the NIFT Union and the Allied Cable Union also attended the meeting.