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The Factory Fire You’ve Never Heard of, and Likely Never Will

This week, I received a call from a friend of mine who owns a factory in Karachi, Pakistan; he shared his surprise that the mainstream media in the U.S. didn’t cover a recent factory fire in his city. His tone was a playful one, poking fun at the obsession with which U.S. reporters covers human rights tragedies.

I confessed to him that I had no idea what he was talking about and quickly scoured the news to see if we had dropped the journalistic ball. I spent thirty minutes searching the web for any mention of the fire, without success. I even called another friend of mine in the industry to confirm that the fire actually happened. He was aware of the fire, and related the same account of it.

Here are the facts that I discovered: a knit factory in Karachi went up in flames, the fire alarm was sounded, the sprinkler system was activated and…all the workers were safely evacuated. There were no injuries or deaths, only some damage to the first floor and lost product. In fact, it turns out that the factory had a fire drill just the week before, practicing an evacuation for precisely this kind of eventuality.

So why no story? Why did the Western press neglect to even mention the fire?

There was no human rights violation, no retailers to wag a scolding finger at, no brands that chose profit over the lives of people, nothing for the NGOs to vilify; basically, all the classic ingredients of a sensationalist news story were missing.

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I think that’s a shame.

The important story here, unfortunately overlooked, is that lives were saved because a factory did the right thing, effectively preparing for potential disaster. The sprinklers were properly installed, fire exits were unlocked and adequately marked, there were working alarms and there were regular fire drills. In short, a compliant factory made all the right moves.

The apparel industry has always been a center of both controversy and heartache. From the Triangle fire to the Rana Plaza, the whole world is aware of our industry’s tragedies.

But, the world is not equally aware of our industry’s triumphs. I will not name the factory in Karachi because no factory or brand wants to be publicly linked to an accident, fire or otherwise. This would only stir trouble for all parties involved. Everyone in the business knows exactly what I’m talking about.

The lesson for everyone here should be clear: it is impossible to overestimate the importance of compliance. Factory owners should take note: this could have been a replay of the Tazreen catastrophe but it wasn’t because all the necessary checks and balances were in place.

For all those involved in the incident, there were no PR nightmares, no massive payouts to be made. Sure, some product was lost but, in the grand scheme of things, that’s just another day in the life of the textile business.