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8 Jul 2021

Saeeda Khatoon, Chairperson, Ali Enterprise Factory Fire Affectees' Association

Open letter: Saeeda Khatoon urges EU Commissioners Breton and Reynders to ensure access to justice for victims of corporate human rights abuse

On 11 September 2012, 258 workers died and hundreds more were seriously injured during a fire at the Ali Enterprise garment factory in Pakistan. Due to lax fire safety measures, workers were at first unaware of, and then trapped by, the fire.

At the time, the factory was producing jeans for its main client, German retailer KiK. Two weeks before the fire, the factory was certified by an Italian auditing company RINA Services, even as auditors had reportedly not visited the building.

In her open letter to the EU Commissioners Breton and Reynders, Saeeda Khatoon describes her struggle for justice.

In Pakistan, the Ali Enterprise Factory Fire Affectees’ Association brought judicial cases against both the Sindh State government and the factory owners for their dereliction of duty and for their negligence. Those cases only brought meagre financial relief for the victims’ families.

They also tried to hold KiK and RINA legally responsible for the fire. The case against KiK was dismissed by a German court for not meeting the time requirement and was not allowed to appeal. A criminal investigation against RINA Services in Italy was also discontinued.

The Ali Enterprise factory fire has been frequently used as a justification for a German supply chain law. In the letter, Saeeda Khatoon explains that after almost a decade of fighting for justice, the passage of the German supply chain law without new legal rights of compensation for victims is incredibly hurtful and disappointing.

As the European Commission is working on a legislation establishing a corporate duty to respect human rights and carry out due diligence, Saeeda Khatoon is urging the Commissioners to ensure that victims of corporate human rights abuse linked to European companies have effective access to justice and remedy, so that no victim will have to face the same obstacles when seeking justice in European courts.

The Commission’s forthcoming proposal for a Sustainable Corporate Governance directive will only be effective if it provides affected individuals and communities with access to justice and effective remedy to hold corporations accountable when harm has occurred.

Saeeda Khatoon ends the letter with a plea: “In your countries, the right to justice for victims is taken for granted. Please deliver us this courtesy as [European] companies extract profits from the factories where our families work under very cheap – that means unhealthy and dangerous – conditions.”