Kanees Fatima, Baldia Town, Karachi

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It was the promise of Rs. 6500 ($60), his monthly salary, that took him to the factory that day. It was the pride of the Rs. 500 ($5) raise that he had earned. It was the house bills, his sibling’s school fees, the monthly ration, and the electricity and water bills. It was the sense of responsibility that comes from being the eldest son in the family. The same sense of responsibility that had forced him to leave school at a young age and find work in the factories. That compelling sense of responsibility that comes from having an asthmatic father, a diabetic younger brother, and two marriageable-age sisters. He had begun his adulthood earlier than usual. And that morning he had left earlier than usual, and in a greater rush than usual. She had not seen him leave. He had not eaten his breakfast. It was going to be a good day, and even though it was his day off, he left with a spring in his step.

On September 11, 2012, a fire broke out at the Ali Enterprises Garment Factory, in Karachi, Pakistan. A major industrial operation, Ali Enterprises had just weeks earlier been given a prestigious SA8000 safety certificate by the industry funded Social Accountability International (SAI). The fire led to the deaths of nearly 300 workers, and left many thousands of family members homeless and penniless. 

The stories of the families of those killed that night show the precarious nature of the lives of the Pakistani working class. They also give a starting point to understand how the law, legislation and policies of the State have led to creating a vulnerable, and easily exploitable labor force. They show the uses of the law to serve specific economic and planning interests, and weaken worker organization and resistance.

Kanees Fatima lost her eldest son, Shoaib, in the factory fire. He was twenty-years old and had just received his salary that day.

Later that night, as the factory burned, Kanees stood outside fighting to get past the Police cordon, screaming at them to help her son trapped inside. In the chaos of the night, with hundreds of people and emergency services personnel gathered and haphazardly attempting to rescue the people trapped inside, she stood and watched her son burn to death. The next time she saw him his blackened, charred remains still covered in his finest shirt and pants that he had worn to the factory, was at the morgue. She had run from one hospital morgue to another, just to find him, hoping beyond hope, that she would find him among the injured. When she finally had found his body, she saw that his salary – all Rs 6,500 ($60) and untouched by the fire, was still there in his shirt pocket.