KARACHI: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called upon the provincial government to ensure that the many breaches of official responsibility revealed by the collapse of a factory building in Sundar Industrial Estate last week, in which more than 50 precious lives were lost, are not swept under the carpet.
In a statement issued from Lahore on Wednesday, the Commission said: “HRCP was greatly saddened by the high death toll in the factory collapse in Lahore. The tragedy in the collapsed building, however, is not merely that of the high casualties. Beyond the obvious neglect of enforcing building regulations, there are grave issues of inadequate rescue infrastructure, widespread child labour, denial of minimum wage, and criminal neglect of workers’ safety.
“The workforce in the Sundar factory that made polythene bags largely comprised children, including some as young as seven, in an environment which was hazardous prima facie even for adults. Equally appalling is the record of payments made to workers highlighted by the media; many employees were getting no more than half the minimum wage.
“Disasters of this kind are sadly not unprecedented. Even in Lahore alone, in the last couple of years, numerous workers have died in factory premises collapsing because of unsound structure, in boiler explosions or because fire safety measures were lacking.
“As condemnable as businesses and factory owners compromising safety to maximise profits is, it is not unheard of. That is precisely why the state is expected to ensure that regulations are in place and effectively enforced to make workers safe.
“The disaster at Sundar could have been prevented but for the many layers of official neglect and systematic inaction. From the Sundar factory collapse, we have learned that there was apparently no restriction or control whatsoever on factory owners building structures as they pleased.
“The administration has now claimed that the building did not have pillars or other sufficient structure to support the construction. Even as senior administration officials detail the long list of flaws in the building, they apparently have little realisation of how each dereliction highlighted now is equally damning for the authorities.
“If all of this can happen in Lahore, the state of affairs elsewhere in the province and the country should not be too difficult to imagine.
“The catastrophe that befell the Sundar factory workers cannot be undone. However, HRCP hopes, and strongly demands, that the authorities will inquire into the culture of apathy and inaction that culminated in the tragedy at Sundar. In the spirit of accountable governance, we call for the findings of such an endeavour to be shared with the public.
“The government must also immediately order effective and regular inspection of all factories and manufacturing premises to make sure that safety measures are in place and workers’ lives and safety are not merely at the whims of factory owners.”