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Six Garment Workers Die in Pakistan Factory

Six laborers at a Pakistan garment warehouse in Karachi died from suffocation on Saturday while cleaning a chemical tank.

Local police have registered a manslaughter case against six suspects, Pakistani newspaper The News International reported. Named suspects include the factory’s general manager Tahir, administration manager Haris, and an unnamed security supervisor and contractor. No arrest was made until the filing of the First Information Report by police on site.

Police reports state that one worker initially entered the approximately 50-feet-deep tank, which was partly filled with chemicals, but fell unconscious upon entering it for cleaning. The report added that the other workers similarly succumbed to the chemicals while trying to rescue him, but further investigation is still underway to confirm how the incident officially took place.

The deadly incident occurred only weeks after a garment factory building located in Karachi collapsed trapping two workers under the debris as all other employees had left when the incident took place. One worker suffered minor injuries and was sent home while another was sent to the hospital for treatment and later released.

The recent factory deaths only raise concerns about factory safety in the garment-producing nation. A garment factory collapse nearly five years ago killed and injured hundreds, while a report published last year continues to question manufacturing safety in Pakistan facilities.

In November, a report issued by a group of labor-rights organizations came to a damning conclusion that garment factories in the country were no safer than they were in 2012, when a deadly fire ripped through the Ali Enterprises factory in Pakistan, killing 254 garment workers. Last month, a Pakistani court sentenced two political party operatives of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement to death for starting the fire after the factory owners refused to pay bribes.

“The total lack of adequate safety monitoring in the Pakistan garment industry has cost hundreds of lives over recent years,” said Zulfiqar Shah, joint director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, which co-authored “Pakistan’s Garment Workers Need a Safety Accord” with the Clean Clothes Campaign, the International Labor Rights Forum, the Labour Education Foundation and the National Trade Union Federation.

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The report urged that instead of focusing on corporate auditing efforts that have largely flatlined, brands and retailers sourcing from Pakistan should back its labor movement’s calls for a legally binding agreement to improve workplace conditions with transparency, enforcement, commercial obligations and worker participation at its core.

The families of those who perished in the recent factory incident, which took place in the Naurus Chowrangi area of the Sindh Industrial & Trading Estate (SITE) in Karachi, claimed that a case should be registered against the factory administration stating that their negligence caused their deaths.

They demanded that the government ensure effective labor inspection mechanism to address the lack of occupation health and safety standards in the industrial sector. The factory owners refuse to pay for machines capable of cleaning the chemical tanks, the families allege.

On Saturday, after receiving information that some workers were trapped in a chemical tank, police and rescue workers from different welfare organizations arrived at the factory and took the six victims to a nearby private hospital, where doctors pronounced them dead on arrival.

Their bodies were later taken to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, where suffocation was confirmed as the official cause of death.

Police identified the six victims by their first names only, as Ramesh, Boora, Ghairdari, Kashan, Naseeb and Shoaib, adding that the incident had occurred in the wee hours of the night but was brought to the families’ notice after they reached the factory to inquire why they had not returned home.

SITE Station House Officer Ayaz Khan said that the statements of the factory’s owner, management and witnesses are being recorded. A case would be registered if any criminal element is found or if the families of the victims ask the police to register a case, Khan added.

Sindh Industries and Commerce Minister Jam Ikramullah Dharejo ordered the SITE managing director to inspect the location and submit a report.