Dortmund Court Grants Pakistani Workers Legal Aid to Pursue Tort Claims Against German Textile Importer

von Peter Bert

Today, the District Court (Landgericht) Dortmund announced that it had granted four Pakistani plaintiffs, who are either victims or relatives of victims of a fire in a textile factory in Karachi, legal aid (Prozesskostenhilfe) to pursue their damages claims against KiK, a German textile retailer, in the German courts. On September 11, 2012, fire broke out during the late afternoon shift at a factory in Karachi and killed nearly 300 people. It was reported that hundreds of workers were trapped inside the factory, as the building had metal grilles on the windows and no fire exits. KiK did not operate the factory directly or indirectly, but sourced goods from the Pakistani operator of the factory (see here for the BBC’s coverage of the incident).

The plaintiffs in the German litigation argue that KiK is liable for damages under Pakistani law, since it failed to make sure that its supplier observed the applicable workplace safety and fire protection standards, even though it had agreed a so-called Code of Conduct with its supplier that dealt with work conditions and workplace safety. The plaintiffs argue that the fact that KiK demanded that its Pakistani suppliers adhered to the Code of Conduct it had established led to a legal obligation on KiK’s part to supervise the suppliers’ compliance with the Code of Conduct. KiK’s position is that compliance with the Code of Conduct had been supervised by independent third parties, that the Code was of a non-binding nature, and did not create a legal obligation to supervise its suppliers.

According to today’s press release, the Dortmund court has held that the question whether KiK is liable for damages governed by Pakistani law. Legal aid was therefore granted to further pursue the litigation in order to determine the position under Pakistani law. The Dortmund court is now instructing an expert to provide an opinion on Pakistani law ...

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