KADER Industrial's hiring of a top team of investigators to probe the cause of Monday's tragic factory fire in Thailand where at least 240 perished, will go some way to assuage the impression given earlier this week that shareholders' concerns came before those of the victims' families. Even as bodies were being pulled out of the ruins, Kader management was telling shareholders that the fire would have no substantial impact. Then, as it emerged that the victims were routinely locked into their workplace to prevent pilfering, it appears management had been warned three months before that fire escapes and fire-fighting equipment were inadequate. Yet this factory was considered to be one of the most modern in Bangkok and was doubtless little different from thousands of others in Thailand. The first question asked of the provincial Thai authorities responsible for licensing the factory was how it could have happened? Is human life so cheap in Thailand that the authorities are prepared to attract foreign businesses by turning a blind eye topossibly dangerous practices? How can they justify giving them carte blanche to restrict their workers and continue operating unimpeded three months after a written warning on safety standards? The question which must now be asked here in Hongkong is what the territory's industrialists will do to clean up their foreign operations. Hongkong has an image problem in this region, where the perception is that the bottom line comes before business ethics or worker safety. If ''tightening management to improve economic performance'' can include locking fire escapes and ignoring basic safety, then it is not the image but the reality which is problematic. This is not a matter for the Government, which neither has nor should have control over how local companies conduct their business overseas, except in an advisory capacity. This is, however, a matter which should concern Hongkong industry both individually and collectively. The Trade Development Council, industry associations and chambers of commerce should get together urgently to establish a code of practice for companies operating outside Hongkong. Such groups exist to promote and safeguard the territory's reputation and image in the region. If Hongkong wishes to present itself internationally and to China as a decent society concerned about human values, its businessmen must be seen to set themselves high standards wherever they operate.