German court sits on Ali Enterprises case

brett mathews | 30th November 2018

DORTMUND – This week, a court in Dortmund held the first oral hearing in the case of the factory fire at Ali Enterprises, a Pakistani supplier of the German clothing retailer KiK. 258 died and dozens were injured when the Ali Enterprises textile factory burned down on 11 September 2012 in Karachi. Clothing retailer KiK was the factory’s main customer. Four of the survivors and bereaved brought their case to court in Germany, arguing that KiK should be held liable because of its joint responsibility for inadequate fire safety precautions in the factory.

The case aims to show that transnational corporations from the Global North bear responsibility for the working conditions of their subsidiaries and suppliers in the Global South. The lawsuit was developed by European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) lawyers with the support of Medico International.

“Those affected want clarity and liability. We carry out this legal fight together with AEFFAA – against the factory owner in Pakistan, against the certification company in Italy and against KiK in Germany,” said Miriam Saage-Maaß from ECCHR.

Lawyer Remo Klinger, who represents the Pakistani plaintiffs, fears the question of corporate responsibility could remain unresolved. Klinger said: “KiK is trying to evade its responsibility by pointing to a possible statutory limitation and thus blocking the resolution of important questions of liability.”

Thomas Seibert from medico international added: “Now it’s the politicians’ turn: the time for voluntary commitments from companies is over. We need laws for the enforcement of human and labor rights.”

From an international perspective, Ben Vanpeperstraete from Clean Clothes Campaign said: “The proceedings against KiK in Germany have contributed significantly to the compensation settlement.”

Indeed, it was announced that families affected by the Ali Enterprises garment factory fire would receive pensions out of a fund financed by KiK.

The day before this week’s hearing, plaintiff Saeeda Khatoon and Nasir Mansoor spoke about the Ali Enterprises Factory Fire Affectees Association’s transnational fight for justice in the supply chains of the global clothing industry. Miriam Saage-Maaß will gave insights into the legal background and the legal-political significance of the case.