UPDATE: As Death Toll Rises, So Do Protests in Bangladesh
The death toll from a building collapse in Bangladesh on Wednesday has now climbed over 300 as many others are still trapped beneath the wreckage of what used to be garment factories and a shopping center.
Shahinur Islam, a Bangladesh Army spokesperson on the collapse, told reporters that the number of people confirmed dead has reached 304. H.T. Imam, an advisor to the Prime Minister, warned the death toll could exceed 350. Of the estimated 3,122 people in the building at the time of the collapse, 2,350 have been rescued. At least half of those rescued have injuries.
Protests and strikes have erupted in Dhaka in response to the tragedy. Tens of thousands of people marched in the streets of the capital and garment workers went on strike to protest safety conditions in garment factories and call on the government to punish those responsible for collapse. Protests escalated as protesters vandalized cars or other garment factories and police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
80% of the garment factory workforce in Bangladesh are women who are often responsible for providing for their families. Despite grueling working conditions, workers in garment factories can make as little as $26 a month.
Many of the factories in the building have connections to multiple Western retailers such as Walmart, Benetton and Cato Fashions, the Dutch C & A, British Prismark, and Spanish Mango, among others.
Outrage over the conditions of garment factories in Bangladesh gained international headlines in November of 2012 when 112 workers died during a fire in a factory that was producing clothes for Walmart and other Western retailers. An official investigation ruled that the fire was deliberately started and determined that up to nine officials prevented workers from leaving the building and even padlocked exits.