The official death toll following the collapse of a Bangladesh garment factory has reached 501 and is expected to climb even higher.

The remains of hundreds of people have been pulled from the wreckage of the eight-story Rana Plaza building that collapsed nine days ago, sparking desperate rescue efforts, a national outpouring of grief and violent street protests.

The tragedy followed the deaths of 112 people five months ago in a blaze that swept through the Tazreen Fashions garment factory in Dhaka and the death of seven in a January blaze.

With three disasters in quick succession, the reputation of Bangladesh's €15.2 billion garment industry, already notorious for its low wages and dismal safety record, has plummeted.

International clothing brands and retailers that said they could ensure worker safety in developing countries through self-regulation such as factory inspections have also suffered a blow to their credibility.

Now, Bangladesh's garment manufacturers fear that a backlash has been set in motion that threatens fortunes and livelihoods in a business that employs more than 3 million people and accounts for about 80% of the impoverished country's exports.

"It's a crucial time for us," said Atiqul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

"We are doing our best to improve the safety measures in the factories.

"We expect our buyers to bear with us and help us to overcome the current crisis. It's not the time to turn away from us. That will hurt the industry and many of the workers will lose jobs."