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Hundreds Perish in Pakistan Factory Fires

The Associated Press puts the death toll from two devastating factory fires at 314, of which 289 were killed in a fire at a garment factory in Karachi.

Most of the deaths were caused by suffocation as people caught in the basement were unable to escape when it filled with smoke, said the top firefighter in Karachi, Ehtisham-ud-Din.

The building only had one accessible exit, and all the other doors were locked, said [government official Roshan Ali] Sheikh…

Workers on higher floors of the five-story building struggled to make it out of windows that were covered with metal bars. Many were injured when they jumped from the building, including a 27-year-old pregnant woman who was injured in the fall…

“There were no safety measures taken in the building design. There was no emergency exit. All the people got trapped,” said senior police official Amjad Farooqi.

The tragedy exposed terrible safety conditions at Pakistani factories and sent politicians scrambling to blame someone other than themselves. The factory managers, who are catching a lot of that blame, have disappeared. And no wonder: “Relatives of the victims said the factory owner locked the exit doors in response to a recent theft, thereby endangering the workers inside.”

Pakistani factory workers are among the lucky ones to have a job and a salary. Millions of their countrymen are caught in unsafe living conditions, susceptible to floods and fires, unable to find work to get their families to a safer, more comfortable life. But the factory fires show that having a job can be a struggle and a danger too: Pakistani factory managers have little concern for the safety and well-being of their workers. Politicians have little incentive to institute more stringent (and expensive) safety measures and controls.

This is something Pakistan (and India, Bangladesh and others) have to get right: A modern economy can’t succeed on the backs of factory workers who are trapped and burned to death because their manager doesn’t want to spend his profits on sprinklers and emergency exits, and the workers’ political representatives are bribed not to force factory managers to do so.

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