Death Toll in Factory Collapse Passes 300 as Protests Hit Streets

Rescue workers in Bangladesh on Friday rushed to find survivors of Wednesday's horrific garment-factory collapse—but the death toll nevertheless climbed above 300, more than three times as high as initial reports.

"We know a human being can survive for up to 72 hours in this situation. So our efforts will continue non-stop," army spokesman Maj. Gen. Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy told reporters. Some 2,200 people have been rescued already, including, late last night, a group of about 40 trapped in the debris.

The collapse is the worst workplace accident in Bangladesh history, surpassing the fire that killed 112 five months ago, and workers have taken to the streets around the capital of Dhaka in protest of poor safety standards and workplace conditions , in some cases forcing factories to shut down. In response, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas.

The British brand Primark and Canadian retailer Loblaw both admitted that some of their garments were made at the collapsed factory, but other companies—like Benetton and Mango,—denied any ties, despite the discovery of documents and tags that seemed to show some of their clothes had been made at the factory.

Bangladesh is the second-largest garment exporter in the world, following only China, and also the cheapest. It remains unclear what, if any, steps manufacturers will take to prevent further tragedies; after last year's fire, Wal-Mart announced plans for a $1.8 million "health and safety institute." There are no labor unions to speak of, and those who have attempted to organize workers have been silenced: Aminul Islam, an organizer, was murdered last year in an unsolved case.

[NYT | AJE | AP, image via AFP/Getty]