The death of about 50 workers — predominantly women and children — in a garment factory on Saturday has refocused attention on the poor working condition in the Bangladeshi textile industry.

Most of the victims died in a stampede prompted by a fire in the Chowdhury Knitwear Garments factory, in Shibpur, 60 km south-east of Dhaka. Nearly 100 people are being treated in hospital and more deaths are expected.

Anger is rising against the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association because of its inability to protect its 1.2 million members, mostly women, who are the backbone of the $4bn (HK$31bn) industry. Clothing is Bangladesh's biggest export, accounting for about 80 per cent of annual export earnings.

About 200 have died since 1998, mainly in fires. And people are asking how many more must die before something is done.

Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, expressed her shock and sympathy at the incident and ordered an investigation. She also promised that those to blame for the deaths would be punished.

The leaders of the association once again vowed to improve safety measures in the factories, but independent observers believe that nothing will be done. “You must understand that the victims are not only poor, but they're women. And who cares for them?” said Khushi Kabir, an activist for women's rights.