GERMAN discount textile retailer Kik plans to pay damages totalling $500,000 to the families of more than 250 workers who died in a fire at a Karachi factory used to produce its clothing. The families say that is too little and are threatening to sue, reported Spiegel Online on Tuesday.
Six weeks ago, at least 259 workers died in a fire in Karachi at a factory that produced jeans for German discount textile and clothing retailer Kik. The disaster created unfavourable headlines for the Western company because it highlighted the poor working conditions of many who create the inexpensive products sold by discounter firms. This week, the company said it is planning to pay out a combined $500,000 to the families of the dead, a figure that works out to about $1,930 per victim.
“That’s not that much at all,” says Nasir Mansoor of Pakistan’s National Trade Union Federation (NTUF). “Furthermore, we don’t know when and how the payment is supposed to come through.” If the payout remains this low, then the workers’ families want to file suit against Kik. Their goal, according to Mansoor, is for every victim’s family to ‘receive acceptable compensation’.
The factory, operated by Ali Enterprises, produced jeans that were sold for €15.99 in Kik stores under the ‘Okay’ brand. The German retailer, based in the town of Bonen in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, only admitted a connection to the factory after a non-governmental organisation confronted the company. Kik executive Michael Arretz admitted that Kik was responsible for 75 per cent of the factory’s orders. But employees with Ali Enterprises say that, without a doubt, “at least 90 per cent” of the products produced there were intended for Kik.
For the last two years, Arretz has been responsible for sustainability at Kik and has been tasked with improving the company’s battered reputation. He has set the standards of the Business Social Compliance Initiative, which he helped to develop, as the guidelines for Kik. The sustainability initiative, which also includes discount chains like Aldi and Lidl, is considered by critics to promote scanty minimum wages rather than living wages and to be relatively unambitious.
According to Arretz, the money Kik is making available is intended to benefit families that still haven’t received any support from the state. The Pakistani government, along with the government of Sindh which includes Karachi, has promised family members 700,000 rupees per victim, or about €5,535. Most families complain that so far they’ve only received cheques that bounce. Others say that they don’t have bank accounts and have no means of redeeming the cheques in the first place.
There’s also confusion about the exact number of victims. Workers’ representatives in Pakistan estimate that more than 300 people died. Sixty-three suspected dead are still officially counted as being missing. The families of these suspected dead have provided DNA material so that it can be compared to that of the bodies that have already been recovered. Alleged family members have been waiting for six weeks for news about whether or not their DNA matches up with samples taken from the corpses. Only 29 corpses remain unidentified.
Several survivors report that workers from across Pakistan were employed at Ali Enterprises. Many of them came from far-off areas of the country to Karachi to try their luck in the city of millions, the survivors say. Families of some workers in different parts of the country might not even know that their loved ones are dead.
“Kik promised restitution weeks ago, but it still hasn’t been paid out,” says one man who worked sewing clothing in the factory and made it out of the flames alive. “Our livelihoods were destroyed in the fire. Now I don’t have any more work, and I hope that I can find something in some other textile factory.”
According to officials at Kik, it has been difficult to organise the payment. Until recently there wasn’t anyone on the ground locally in Pakistan who could manage the matter, the company said, confirming a report by the aid organisation Medico International.
Arretz told SPIEGEL that, in the meantime, he’s found a partner in Pakistan to coordinate the payments. The executive said that he also flew to Karachi for a two-day visit last week.
But representatives of the workers accuse Kik of dragging its feet. “To this day, we don’t know who is responsible for organising this or who the Kik representative on site is,” says union representative Mansoor. “The effected workers and their familes have nobody to contact.”