Clothes manufacturers in Bangladesh on Friday pledged to "act now" to improve safety conditions after 110 workers were killed in a fire, as the industry tried to reassure Western buyers.

Since the blaze late Saturday the fire department has launched a surprise inspection blitz of hundreds of factories, while protesters have taken to the streets to demand better safety measures.

There have been accusations managers at the Tazreen Fashion factory, 20 miles north of the capital Dhaka, told employees to stay at their work stations when the fire broke out, and firefighters have highlighted the inadequacy of escape routes.

"It’s a crisis for the industry and we need to act now to ensure safety for our workers," said Shafiul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporter Association (BGMEA).

"We want to take lessons from this tragic incident and we want to restart from here,” Islam added.

The BGMEA would form an expert panel to improve and monitor factory safety, he said, and companies that did not comply would face "stern actions."

Islam made the pledge as around 50 Western buyers, including GAP, H&M and Levi's, gathered to express their concerns during a meeting at the BGMEA head office in Dhaka.

Bangladesh is a global centre for clothes manufacturing due to cheap labour, but work conditions are often basic and safety standards low.

The country has recently emerged as the world's second-largest clothes exporter with overseas garment sales topping $19 billion last year, or 80% of national exports.

The sector is the mainstay of the poverty-stricken country's economy, employing 40% of its industrial workforce.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012