Philippines prohibits US firm call center from expanding after deadly fire

Above, the New City Commercial Center mall in Davao City — where American call center firm Research Now SSI has operations — that was gutted by a fire. (Reuters)
Updated 03 January 2018
0

Philippines prohibits US firm call center from expanding after deadly fire

MANILA: The Philippines has barred a branch of an American call center firm from expanding in the country following a pre-Christmas fire that killed dozens of its employees, a senior government official said on Wednesday.
Charito Plaza, director-general of the government’s Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), said the agency had suspended the operations of American firm Research Now SSI, as well as the shopping mall hosting it, for failing to meet certain safety requirements since 2013.
“They can operate again once they get a clearance from the Bureau of Fire and the local government,” Plaza told Reuters in a text message.
The authority’s suspension took effect on December 29, but it only covers SSI’s branch in the southern city of Davao where the December 23 blaze broke out at a furniture and fabric store on a lower floor of the New City Commercial Center (NCCC) mall before engulfing the call center’s offices.
Thirty-eight people were killed.
SSI’s office in Cebu, in the central Philippines, would not be affected as it has been complying with PEZA rules, Plaza said.
Investigators looking into fire said there were indications safety lapses may have contributed to the tragedy.
“Violations were more of the non-compliance of annual emergency drills to test the fire safety equipment, response and rescue capability, sprinklers and emergency exits,” Plaza said.
SSI and the mall were registered with PEZA in 2008, as a business process outsourcing firm and an economic zone developer, respectively.
PEZA did not issue fire inspection and safety certificates to NCCC and SSI from 2013 to 2017, Plaza said.
But the companies were able to renew their business permits with the city government of Davao after passing fire safety inspection by the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), Plaza said.
How SSI and NCCC secured fire safety inspection certificates from the bureau is one of the things an inter-agency task force looking into the blaze is investigating.
Four fire officials being questioned over the blaze have been relieved of their duties after initial findings showed they have “some liabilities,” a government investigator said on Monday.
Davao planning chief Ivan Cortez said the city gives business permits to companies after they get a fire safety and inspection certificate from the Bureau of Fire Protection.
“The agency focusing on fire is the Bureau of Fire. The local government will not release a permit without the approval of the Bureau of Fire. They are the last office. When they approve, that is the time we release the business permit,” Cortez told Reuters.
NCCC could not immediately be reached for comment. An SSI official declined to comment and referred Reuters to its legal representative.
It was not clear yet how the suspension would affect SSI workers.
SSI employed 500 people at the Davao call center and since the fire said it would not comment until after investigations were concluded.
NCCC has insisted it had met safety requirements.


’We failed them’: Australia apologizes to child sex abuse victims

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison (C) delivers a national apology to child sex abuse victims in the House of Representatives in Parliament House in Canberra on October 22, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 9 min 52 sec ago
0

’We failed them’: Australia apologizes to child sex abuse victims

  • The state apology comes after a five-year Royal Commission that detailed more than 15,000 survivors’ harrowing child sex abuse claims involving thousands of institutions

CANBERRA: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a national apology to victims of child sex abuse in an emotional address to parliament Monday, acknowledging the state failed to stop “evil dark crimes” committed over decades.
“This was done by Australians to Australians, enemies in our midst, enemies in our midst,” Morrison told parliament in a nationally televised address.
“As a nation, we failed them, we forsook them, and that will always be our shame,” he said, his voice cracking as he recounted abuse that permeated religious and state-backed institutions.
Decrying abuse that happened “day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade” in schools, churches, youth groups, scout groups, orphanages, sports clubs and family homes, Morrison declared a new national credo in the face of allegations: “We believe you.”
“Today, we say sorry, to the children we failed. Sorry. To the parents whose trust was betrayed and who have struggled to pick up the pieces. Sorry. To the whistleblowers, who we did not listen to. Sorry.
“To the spouses, partners, wives, husbands, children, who have dealt with the consequences of the abuse, cover-ups and obstruction. Sorry. To generations past and present. Sorry.”
The state apology comes after a five-year Royal Commission that detailed more than 15,000 survivors’ harrowing child sex abuse claims involving thousands of institutions.
In parliament, lawmakers stood for a moment of silence following the remarks as hundreds of survivors looked on or watched in official events across the country.
Relatives of victims who have died wore the tags with the names of daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, for whom this apology comes too late.
A series of institutions have already apologized for their failings, including Australian Catholic leaders who have lamented the church’s “shameful” history of child abuse and cover-ups.
According to the Royal Commission, seven percent of Catholic priests in Australia were accused of abuse between 1950 and 2010, but the allegations were never investigated, with children ignored and even punished.
Some senior members of the church in Australia have been prosecuted and found guilty of covering up abuse.