Death Toll Surges at Bangladesh Garment Factory Collapse

Rescuers search rubble for scores of missing workers.

ByABC News
April 25, 2013, 3:24 PM

April 25, 2013 — -- The reported death toll from a Bangladesh building collapse climbed over 220 today with scores of garment workers believed to be missing as rescue crews pulled more bodies from the rubble.

There were reports this morning that rescuers have pulled 40 people out alive from the rubble of the eight-story structure, which had been home to four garment factories.

The deadly collapse is the latest in a string of devastating incidents at garment factories in Bangladesh, including a fire last year that killed 112 workers. Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of clothing to the United States behind China, and U.S. retailers continued to be drawn to the country for manufacturing because the production costs are so low, experts said.

Advocates for the workers have led an increasingly vocal campaign in Bangladesh demanding safer working conditions, and have been pushing major American retailers including Wal-Mart and Gap to do more to insure that factory owners are not cutting corners to reduce costs.

"It tells us that despite all the promises and pledges from the retailers, that nothing has changed," said Scott Nova, of the Worker Rights Consortium, a group that has been lobbying U.S. retailers to do more on safety in Bangladesh.

Wal-Mart is among the well-known American companies listed as a customer on the web site of Ether Tex, one of the garment firms that was in the building that came down. But because a number of companies, including Wal-Mart, use sourcing firms to place their orders, they say it can be difficult to quickly determine where an order is being produced. A Wal-Mart spokesman told ABC News he remains unsure if clothing made for its stores were being sewn in the Bangladesh factory.

" We are saddened by this tragic event," said Kevin Gardner, a Wal-Mart spokesman. " Our investigation has confirmed Walmart had no authorized production in this facility. If we learn of any unauthorized production, we will take appropriate action based upon our zero-tolerance policy on unauthorized subcontracting. We remain committed to promoting stronger safety measures in factories and that work continues."