In a follow up story on the horrible factory fire in Karachi, Pakistan last week, the New York Times reports that this fire, probably among other things, has brought the global system for safety inspections under much needed scrutiny. A few weeks before this textile fire two inspectors from Social Accountability International gave the factory, Ali Enterprises, a prestigious rating declaring that they were up to international standards in nine areas; including, child labor, minimum wages, health and safety. The S.A.I. is a non-profit group, based in New York, which focuses on investigation and monitoring of labor and factory conditions, and is funded by corporations.
The issue is this: it is true that there is corruption and poor application of regulations by the Pakistani government and factory owners, however another large part of this are the policies of the Western producers who look to Pakistani factories for their textile production needs. The failure of success for the S.A.I was in part because the factory owners were given plenty of time to rig employee answers to investigators, ensure exits were open and unobstructed and hide the fact that they were involved in any child labor. Also, the S.A.I is, as mentioned before, based in the West and funded by large, most likely Western, corporations. Unfortunately, this system does not bode well for protecting the rights and safety of the workers. For example, nearly 300 workers died in the Ali Enterprises fire, while only 250 workers were registered, and in reality approximately 1,000 people were employed in total. Only ONE of their Western clients came forward and admitted to using the productions of this factory. The client, a German jean company called KiK, said that they had requested three audits. One of which said the factory failed to meet fire safety standards, while the next declared the fire hazards had been remedied. While the other producers remain unidentified, it is clear that a large part of these slights to labor rights are in response to Western producers’ desires for cheap labor at what ever cost to human rights.