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.


UK police: possible hate crime outside Muslim center; 3 hurt

Updated 19 September 2018
0

UK police: possible hate crime outside Muslim center; 3 hurt

  • Officials said some anti-Muslim comments were made and the car reportedly sustained minor damage from some of the people from the center
  • Police said the injuries are not life threatening although two people needed hospital treatment

LONDON: British police are investigating a possible hate crime after a car hit pedestrians near a Muslim community center, injuring three people.
Police were called early Wednesday morning after a confrontation developed between four people in a car and a large group of people visiting a Muslim community center and mosque in the Cricklewood area of northwest London.
Officials said some anti-Muslim comments were made and the car reportedly sustained minor damage from some of the people from the center. It then sped off, hitting three people without stopping.
Police said the injuries are not life threatening although two people needed hospital treatment. The case is not being treated as related to terrorism.
The Hussaini Association, which had organized a lecture at the mosque, called the collision “a suspected premeditated Islamophobic attack.”
In a statement, the group said the car “swerved into innocent bystanders” and the occupants were heard shouting anti-Islamic taunts just before the attack.
Police are searching for the car and its occupants, reported as three men and a woman.
“This incident is not being treated as terror-related but the hate crime aspect of the collision is being looked at by detectives as an aggravating factor,” police said in a statement.