Tag Archives: UK

Hacking Group Anonymous Targets Global Pedophiles

Hacking group Anonymous to target pedophiles using the ‘dark web’ to carry out child abuse
  • Hacking group Anonymous are targeting international pedophile rings
  • ‘Operation Death Eaters’ is campaign aiming to expose ‘pedosadists’
  • Global project is building a grassroots database of international cases
  • Hopes to ultimately expose an ‘international cult’ of child sex abuse  
  • Calling on followers to research cases of high level corruption 
  • Also demands ‘end to human trafficking and abuse complicity worldwide’


Anonymous protesters with covered faces march from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square and then around the streets of London to protest austerity, mass surveillance and attacks on human rights on November 5, 2014.

Anonymous protesters with covered faces march from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square and then around the streets of London to protest austerity, mass surveillance and attacks on human rights on November 5, 2014.

In the wake of the Westminster child abuse scandal and allegations of establishment cover-ups, hackers Anonymous have decided to expose international pedophile networks.

The hacking group says it is is planning on collecting evidence against international pedophile rings and their abuse of children to find the links between different operations and ultimately bring the perpetrators to justice.

Named ‘Operation Death Eaters’ after Voldemort’s band of evil followers in the Harry Potter series, the group is calling for a global effort in exposing the pedophile rings through the power of social media.

A still from the Operation Death Eaters video by  Anonymous - the hacking group says it is is planning on collecting evidence against international paedophile rings to ultimately bring the perpetrators to justice

A still from the Operation Death Eaters video by Anonymous – the hacking group says it is is planning on collecting evidence against international pedophile rings to ultimately bring the perpetrators to justice

This newest Anonymous campaign comes just weeks after the group declared war on jihadists in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.

Now, they are building a grassroots database of pedophile cases from across the world in order to ultimately expose an ‘international cult’ of child sex abuse.

A Tumblr set up to promote the campaign states: ‘The objective of opdeatheaters is an independent, international, victim-led tribunal/ inquiry into trafficking and paedosadist industry.

‘What is our first step? We need meticulously researched and clearly documented examples of high level complicity in the industry, obstruction of justice and cover ups to show the need for independent inquiries.’

The UK version of the site states: ‘The CSA inquiry in the UK is an attempt to depict a powerful cult as a string of isolated incidents of “sex abuse”.

‘The complicit UK media is running a huge propaganda campaign to conflate torture and murder with “pedophilia” and call for understanding of “pedophilia”.

‘This is not a group of sad pedophiles who need help and understanding. This is a torture and death cult with a powerful global human trafficking network.

‘We demand that torture and murder be called torture and murder, not sex. This is an international cult and needs to be investigated as one, not simply as an endless series of isolated incidents confined to the UK.

‘We call upon our comrades globally to help us investigate and demand an end to to the trafficking networks with arrests at the top not just the bottom.

‘We demand an end to human trafficking and abuse complicity worldwide.’

The Independent refers to an Anonymous statement which claims: ‘The Westminster pedophile ring is one of many cases where Operation DeathEaters has actively pursued and sought truth, in order to end the hideous crimes concealed behind the British elite.

‘In fear of these investigations being bungled over time, the operation’s objectives are clear and simple: source public information before it disappears, push for independent inquiry, and offer support to witnesses and the victims where needed.’

Anonymous also cites a number of high profile cases and investigations in the UK including Jimmy Savile, MP Cyril Smith,the claims regarding Elm Guest House and the now-defunct Paedophile International Exchange

Tens of millions of images of child abuse are believed to be circulating online on the ‘dark web’, many showing such graphic abuse that the media is turning a blind eye to the problem, experts warned this week.

Figures from the European Commission’s Global Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Online suggest 50,000 new child abuse images are uploaded each year – of which more than 70 per cent are images of children under the age of 10.

On January 10 Anonymous activists released a video condemning the gun attack at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo which left 12 people dead.

The hacking group says it wants to collect evidence against international paedophile rings and look into their abuse of children to find the links between different operations and bring the perpetrators to justice

The hacking group says it wants to collect evidence against international paedophile rings and look into their abuse of children to find the links between different operations and bring the perpetrators to justice

In the clip, which was uploaded to the group’s Belgian YouTube account, a figure wearing the group’s Guy Fawkes mask and a hood says in French in an electronically-distorted voice: ‘We are declaring war against you, the terrorists.’

Sitting at a desk and reading from a piece of paper, the figure says the group will track down and close all accounts on social networks related to terrorists to avenge those killed.

Anonymous has previously carried out cyber attacks on websites belonging to the Government, as well as those of corporate and religious organisations.

In 2012 Anonymous crippled the Home Office’s website by flooding it with huge amounts of internet traffic.

Named 'Operation Death Eaters' after Voldemort's band of evil followers in the Harry Potter series, the group is calling for a global effort in exposing the paedophile rings through the power of social media


Hacker group Anonymous has been linked to online attacks around the world aimed at punishing governments for policies of which the hackers disapprove.

Members are known as ‘Anons’ and are distinguished by their Guy Fawkes masks.

The group are seen as anything from digital Robin Hoods to cyber terrorists for their hacking campaigns against government agencies, child pornography sites and the Klu Klux Klan.

In 2008 the online community staged a series of protests, pranks, and hacks Church of Scientology as part if its ‘Project Chanology.’

Later targets of Anonymous ‘hacktivism’ included government agencies of the US, Israel, Tunisia, Uganda, and others, copyright protection agencies; the Westboro Baptist Church; and corporations such as PayPal, MasterCard, Visa, and Sony.

In 2013 they declared war on secretive ‘chat sites’ used by pedophiles to trade images.

Last November they hacked into the Twitter account of the Ku Klux Klan after the white supremacist group distributed flyers threatening ‘lethal force’ protesters in Ferguson.

Dozens of people have been arrested for involvement in Anonymous cyberattacks, in countries including the US, UK, Australia, the Netherlands, Spain, and Turkey.


UK: “Sarah’s Law” Sees 700 Pedophiles Identified

Sarah Payne

The law is named after Sarah Payne who was murdered by a convicted pedophile

More than 700 pedophiles have been identified since the introduction of “Sarah’s Law” in 2011, Freedom of Information requests have revealed.

Nearly 5,000 requests for information were made in England, Scotland and Wales; one in seven resulted in a pedophile being revealed.

The disclosure scheme was named after eight-year-old victim Sarah Payne.

It means a parent or guardian can ask police if a person who has contact with children is a child sex offender.

“There must be sufficient access to or connection with the child by the subject to pose a real risk of harm and therefore justify disclosure,” say the rules governing the scheme.

Some 4,754 applications have been made since the system was introduced two-and-a-half years ago but the number is falling. There were 1,944 in 2011-12 and 1,106 so far in 2013-14, while disclosures were 281 in the first year and 122 in current year to April.

‘Checking someone’

Child safety campaigners said they were concerned that the disclosure rate was too low, suggesting that many offenders were not on police records.

In England and Wales, Avon and Somerset Police revealed the highest number of pedophiles at 42. This was followed by followed by 39 in Devon and Cornwall, 36 in Thames Valley and 33 in Norfolk. The identities of 49 child sex offenders were released by police forces in Scotland.

Donald Findlater, director of research and development at child protection charity the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, said: “Given the apparent drop in applications since the start of the scheme, albeit small, we have some concern that people may not know the scheme is available to them.

“We would like to see continued public awareness and publicity, whether by local forces or nationally by the Home Office, so that people know that this means of checking someone out exists.”

The scheme was introduced following the campaigning of Sara Payne, the mother of Sarah. Her daughter was was found in a field near Pulborough, West Sussex, after she was killed by Roy Whiting in July 2000.

Under Sarah’s Law, police will reveal details confidentially if they think it is in the child’s interests.

‘Safeguarding concern’

Christopher Stacey, director of services at offender reform charity Unlock, said: “It is important to strike the right balance between the need to protect the public and enabling people who have served their sentence and rehabilitated themselves to move on positively with their lives.

“There already exists a detailed framework in place which is designed to enable the police, probation services and other agencies to share information with members of the public where there is a safeguarding concern.

“As a result, it is unclear what value this scheme is adding, with serious questions about the statistics being used to defend the effectiveness of the scheme.”

Jon Brown, NSPCC lead for tackling sexual abuse, said there was a delicate balancing act.

“Sarah’s Law is not a silver bullet to end child abuse, and giving the public information about where sex offenders live is just one part of the jigsaw,” he said.

“Informing the public of their whereabouts has to be done properly, professionally and judged on a case-by-case basis.

“Forcing a child abuser underground because of a fear of vigilante attacks won’t make children safer as the authorities will lose track of them.”

The figures were up to November this year. The disclosure scheme does not apply in Northern Ireland.


Anger at Calls to Lower Age of Consent to 15 in UK

A CALL from Britain’s leading public health expert to allow teenagers to have sex legally at 15 sparked a furious backlash

A leading health expert has recommended lowering the age of consent to 15

A leading health expert has recommended lowering the age of consent to 15

By: Daniel Macadam

Politicians, lawyers and parents warned that lowering the age of consent from 16 would ­further ruin the innocence of childhood and send a “dangerous message” to paedophiles.

Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, argued changing the law would “draw a line in the sand” against sex at 14 or younger.

Prof Ashton said the new age limit would help teens to get ­sexual health advice on the NHS and help realign who should be exposed to sexual messages.

But parents warned that the proposal would send the wrong message in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal and other paedophile attacks.

Siobhan Freegard, of parenting website Netmums, said: “There are very few prosecutions for adults caught having sex with 14 and 15-year-olds, so if the age of consent drops further, it could send a dangerous message.

uk, britain, consent, age, sex, children, teens, teenagers, 15, 16, john ashton, jimmy savile, paedophile,

Professor John Ashton believes that a lower age limit would help teens get sexual health advice [PA]

“At 15, many children simply aren’t ready for sex mentally or physically. We should be protecting what little time they have of their childhood not slashing it.”

Prime Minister David Cameron was quick to reject Prof Ashton’s suggestion. Downing Street said: “The current age is in place to protect children and there are no plans to change it.”

A lawyer for 72 of Savile’s ­victims said she had “real concerns” about lowering the age of consent. Liz Dux, who heads a specialist child abuse team at law firm Slater & Gordon, said: “Predatory adults would be given legitimacy to focus their attentions on even younger teenagers.

“There is a real risk that society would be sending out the message that sex between 14 to 15-year-olds is also acceptable.”

Official figures estimate that as many as one in three teenagers has sex before their 16th birthday. Britain also has the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe with 29 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19.

uk, britain, consent, age, sex, children, teens, teenagers, 15, 16, john ashton, jimmy savile, paedophile,

David Cameron was quick to reject the suggestions [GETTY]

Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg said: “We have far too high levels of teenage pregnancy. I’m worried about the sexualisation of the culture and the information so many young people are bombarded with. But do I think a blanket reduction in the age of consent is the answer? No.”

Legalising consensual sex at 15 would bring Britain in line with France, Greece, Sweden and Poland. In Germany, Italy and Portugal, the legal age is 14. Spain allows sex as young as 13, though that is being raised to 16.

Experts claim changing Britain’s age of consent would help teenagers get more advice about sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.

TV doctor Christian Jessen, Embarrassing Bodies host, said that sex being illegal under the age of 16 made it more difficult for young people to ask for help.

He explained: “Kids are having sex at that age and younger but won’t go to the GP for advice or contraception as it’s illegal.”

Prof Ashton said: “Youngsters get the most incredible messages from pornography, from social media. This needs to be corrected by having open discussions in a sensible environment.”



UK: People with Fake Rape Porn Could Get as Much Jail Time as Real Sex Offenders in the U.S.

david cameron

Mr Cameron is targeting websites which show videos and images of rape – whether they claim they are ‘simulated’ or not.


The latest chapter of Prime Minister David Cameron’s ongoing plan to enact a ban on porn is set to happen on Monday when he announces that anyone who possesses a porn depicting rape (simulated or not) can face up to three years in jail — the same amount of prison time as the average sentence for actual sexual assault in the United States.

Yes, that’s sort of embarrassing when it comes to sexual assault sentencing in U.S., but many feel like the U.K. change is too strict when it comes to what’s become a common fantasy.

The new anti rape-porn law will broaden the definition of possession to viewing the criminal porn on a browser, The Mirror reports, and Metro UK explains that this will go into effect in 2014:

The changes to the law, which will be introduced in January, will bring England and Wales in line with Scotland, where the offence carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail.

Mr Cameron is targeting websites which show videos and images of rape – whether they claim they are ‘simulated’ or not.

Cameron said this summer that these measures and his anti-porn push were about helping women and children. Cameron explained that he wanted to eliminate child pornography and change how women are depicted in these films — he hopes that cutting down on rape pornography it may change sexual violence in the country. No one really has any qualms with Cameron’s goal to punish and clamp down on predators who are producing and procuring child porn.

But his rape ordinance isn’t going over as smoothly.

Yes, in the darkest corners of the Internet, there are disgusting videos of actual rape out there. But there are also plenty of films which now straddle the line and touch upon rape/dominance fantasies. And these films aren’t just for men. According to a 2009 study from North Texas University, 62 percent of women said they had a fantasy when they were having sex against their willPsychology Today reports that history has shown similar statistics:

From 1973 through 2008, nine surveys of women’s rape fantasies have been published. They show that about four in 10 women admit having them (31 to 57 percent) with a median frequency of about once a month. Actual prevalence of rape fantasies is probably higher because women may not feel comfortable admitting them.

Having a fantasy and reality are, of course, very different things. People playing paintball probably wouldn’t want to actually get shot by real a gun and real bullets, and people watching slasher movies don’t want to actually kill a bunch of good-looking white people. In that same vein, the majority of women and men who fantasize about a domination/non-consensual fantasy aren’t actually looking to get real-life raped or do real-life raping (not to mention, there are plenty of men, gay and straight, who fantasize about being dominated too).

That North Texas study found that there’s a sharp drop off when it comes to the wording — when “rape” is used, only 32 percent of women admit to the fantasy, when “overpowered by a man” is used, that number jumps to 52 percent of women. And men aren’t necessarily comfortable actout rape fantasies their partners ask for, either.

Further, the connection between actual real-life violence and porn is blurry at best — India, which bans all forms of porn, has been in the news thanks to a rash of brutal rapes. Meanwhile, in the United States the incidence of rape declined 85 percent over a period of 25 years while access to pornography has increased, The New York Times reported.

Figuring out how to send the right message and what constitutes bad and good and the depiction of women is no doubt tough. But the idea of criminalizing and punishing a common fantasy and not addressing or recognizing that fantasy is not reality, isn’t exactly helping.

‘Hungarian sex gang’ Allegedly Ran Brothel on University of Sussex Campus

Mate Puskas, 25, allegedly ran a brothel on the University of Sussex Campus

Mate Puskas, 25, allegedly ran a brothel on the University of Sussex Campus

Student accommodation at the University of Sussex was used as a brothel by an international prostitution ring, a court was told.

Five Hungarian men and a woman are accused of flying more than 50 young women into the UK and setting them up in hotels, student accommodation and residential housing across Sussex.

Mate Puskas, 25, Victoria Brown, 25, Zoltan Mohacsi, 36, Istvan Toth, 34 and Peter Toth, 28, all deny running of the “complex” organisation.

Hove Crown Court heard the gang, which is linked to a Hungarian organised crime group, advertised the girls for sex through an adult website.

David Walbank, prosecuting, told how the five recruited young women, some as young as 18, from Hungary and arranged for them to fly to the UK.

They would then take them to hotels near the airports, including Gatwick, before sending them as far and afield as Glasgow and Margate.

He added they also arranged pornographic shoots for the women, scheduled appointments with clients and negotiated on sexual services and prices.

As the trial opened yesterday Mr Walbank said: “This is a case about individual people, specifically the young Hungarian women who are the most obvious victims.

Mate Puskas

Victoria Brown, 25, allegedly ran a brothel on the University of Sussex Campus.

 “The overall history of what was done by these girls and to these girls is a series of individual human tragedies, the consequences of which will affect many of them for a lifetime.”

The jury was told more than 50 women had been identified as sex workers although Mr Walbank said the number was likely to be “significantly higher”.

He added that although just five defendants were on trial, the “scale” and “complexity” of the operation suggested many more were also involved.

The gang first came to the attention of police in 2011.

The court was told how the University of Sussex’s building manager, Martin West, was alerted to an email advertising escorts in Park Village on the Falmer campus.

In one of the semi-naked profiles he recognized the distinct campus curtains and bedding a prostitute was sprawled across.

The jury heard he went to investigate and found a young woman wearing a vest top and knickers. He also found a number of wet wipes and a large box of condoms.

Mr Walbank told the jury how the gang set up brothels across Sussex including one in a basement flat in Marine Parade, Eastbourne.

After a tip-off police visited the flat and found a young woman “dressed provocatively” sitting on a bed with her “cleavage showing”.

The jury heard one of the prostitutes called the address a brothel later in the investigation, confessing she had sex there with up to 15 men a day.

The group also used a string of hotels close to Gatwick to accommodate prostitutes, the jury heard.

Among them were the Ibis Holiday Inn and the Gatwick Moat House Hotel.

Staff reported a succession of foreign girls checking in before being visited by numerous men each day.

On one occasion, police officers were called to the Gatwick Moat House on December 10 2011 when staff grew suspicious of their guest in room 401.

The jury heard officers approached the room to hear “muffled banging”. Inside they found a young female wearing just her underwear and bins “overflowing with refuse including toilet paper and used condoms”, Mr Walbank said.

A third location, a house rented in Zion Place, Margate, Kent was also regularly visited by a series of men.

The gang had a “fleet of vehicles” to run the complex operation and regularly updated website profiles, Mr Walbank said.

Mate Puskas

Zoltan Mohacsi, 36, allegedly ran a brothel on the University of Sussex Campus.

The jury heard all but Brown are Hungarian nationals.

Brown, who has lived in Holland Road, Hove, was in a relationship with Puskas.

Mr Walbank added: “Each of these defendants was actively involved in running an international prostitution ring which involved the trafficking of young women from Hungary.

“They arranged appointments with paying clients whom these young women were expected to service by performing every imaginable type of sexual activity and then pocketing a large slice of the cash proceeds.”

Puskas, of Surrey Street, Croydon, Brown, of Oakley Road, Bognor, Mohacsi, of Cranbrook Road, Ilford and Istvan and Peter Toth, of St John’s Road, Eastbourne, face three counts of conspiracy to control the activities of prostitutes for gain, conspiracy to traffic into the UK and conspiracy to traffic within the UK.

Istvan and Peter Toth, who were not in court, are being tried in their absence.

The trial is listed to last for eight weeks.

Why sweatshop owners may start sweating

 Union activists in Bangladesh face threats and loss of work. Still, garment workers are starting to get organized, and factory owners worry that change is on the way
Daliya Shikdur, 20, organized a union earlier this year at the garment factory where she works in Dhaka. She's since been threatened and followed by men she says were sent by her boss.

Daliya Shikdur, 20, organized a union earlier this year at the garment factory where she works in Dhaka. She’s since been threatened and followed by men she says were sent by her boss.


DHAKA, BANGLADESH—By day, Daliya Shikdur manned a sewing machine in a local garment factory, her fingers a blur as she stitched the inseams of 130 pairs of jeans every hour.

By night, the elegant 20-year-old, wisps of black hair framing her high cheekbones, prowled the choked streets of Dhaka as a prostitute.

At least that was the story that was spread through the slum of Khanbari, where Shikdur lives alongside 150 other families who survive hand-to-mouth, many of them garment sector workers, rickshaw drivers and small business owners.

Truth was, Shikdur spent most evenings this spring trying to coax her 1,285 co-workers at Natural Apparels Ltd. to sign a union card.

“People said I was a prostitute because they thought there was no other reason a young woman would be out by herself after work,” Shikdur said during a recent evening in her home.

Shikdur is strong and confident, proud of her skills on the factory floor, and of her role as a union organizer. She is beautiful and strong-willed enough that she refused to consider an early marriage — no small act in a country where the U.N. says 75 per cent of girls are married before they turn 18.

Shikdur had the simplest reason for organizing a union: she was fed up.

After five years working at Natural Apparels, stitching pants destined for the Swedish retailer H&M, Shikdur was making $58 a month, plus another $10 for 12 hours of overtime. Not bad money for the daughter of a single mother from Jhalokati, a cursed rural district of rivers and oft-flooded farmland where illiteracy rates eclipse 55 per cent.

But life hadn’t worked out as it was supposed to after Shikdur’s move to Dhaka in 2008. This is her third factory job and her skills should have earned her respect — or at least the certainty that she would be paid the money she was owed. Shikdur could stitch hems and inseams, pockets and cuffs as fast as any of her peers.

Her boss was legally obligated to pay a $35 bonus for working 18 days straight, but those bonuses often went unpaid, and were often cut to $13 without explanation.

After several months of lobbying, Shikdur persuaded 450 of her colleagues to sign a union registration document.

“Having a union is about doing good for everyone, but it’s also about me,” she said. “I want better for myself. I want a better salary. I want to know I will get the bonus they owe to me. Shouldn’t I have that?”

On May 5, the government approved the request, making Shikdur and her colleagues members of an exclusive group.

United by tragedy

No country has come to depend as much on the ready-made garment industry as has Bangladesh. While the country’s $27 billion worth of clothing exports may pale next to China, the world leader with about $263 billion (Cdn.), garments account for 15 per cent of the Bangladeshi economy, compared to 3 per cent in China.

Some four million workers spend six days each week in the country’s 5,000 factories, stitching and sewing, cutting and measuring. Most begin their working day at 9 a.m. and remain hunched over machines until long after the sun has set and others here have made their way to mosque for the Maghrib, the evening prayer. The pay is astonishingly low. Newcomers to the industry make about 15 cents an hour.

Safety is often ignored. Many factories have dicey wiring, exits that are nailed shut or blocked, and no fire extinguishers.

For the moment, the world’s gaze is fixed on Bangladesh. On April 24, 1,129 people died when Rana Plaza collapsed, and the consequences continue to churn. Western retailers are trying to explain why their clothes are being made in an eight-storey factory that had three illegally added floors and was built on swampland.

It’s not the first time in the spotlight. From April 2005 until June 2006, a series of tragedies forced the Bangladeshi government to reform. Those incidents included one that foreshadowed Rana Plaza when 64 workers were killed in the collapse of a factory, also built on swamp ground, and also with floors illegally added. But it took riots by 100,000 workers and pressure by the U.S. government, itself pressured by the powerful AFL-CIO union, to bring about those changes.

With reformed labour laws and pledges made by multinational retailers, Bangladesh doesn’t look so bad on paper until the laws are ignored and the tragedies return.

But this time, factory owners — the country’s plutocrats, who can afford sprawling homes in Toronto and other cities overseas — worry that change is coming.

More than 100 retailers have signed contracts promising to pay millions of dollars for safety improvements and redoubled factory inspections. The Bangladeshi government is similarly on a hiring spree, increasing the numbers of safety and labour inspectors.

Grassroots efforts to organize workers seem to be succeeding. Shikdur’s union is among 45 that have been approved this year. That gives Bangladesh 50 unions for 5,000 factories.

“The factory owners hate unions,” said Alonzo Suson, the country director for The Solidarity Center, a Dhaka-based non-profit that gives legal advice to workers. “They say these workers are ignorant villagers, country bumpkins.

“Many people now believe that if those workers at Rana Plaza had a union, they probably wouldn’t have gone back to work after discovering cracks in the walls a day before the collapse. The drumbeat for trade unions has become loud and clear.”


While the West watches

In July, Bangladesh passed a labour law that the government promised would improve conditions for many of the 3.2 million women and 800,000 men who work in the garment sector.

But this may not be enough. In September, garment workers protested in the streets, demanding an increase in the minimum wage to $100 a month from the current $39. Meanwhile, activists say factory owners still obstruct workers like Shikdur, including one at a factory that makes clothes for a well-known Canadian retailer, a factory they accuse of firing or threatening organizers. Suspicion still surrounds factory owners’ role in the unsolved murder of union activist Aminul Islam in 2012.

“We tell our people to be very secret about starting a union,” said Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation.

“Go slow. There’s no need to even say the word union in the first few discussions. They should just talk about the working conditions and whether they are happy or not.”

The new law also gives a labour director, a government employee, the sole discretion to approve a union or shut it down without notice.

“What will the director do a year from now, when the West is not so interested in Bangladesh factories,” said Babul Akter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation. “Start quietly shutting the unions down?”

After the collapse at Rana Plaza, hundreds of thousands of garment workers walked off the job to protest the lax enforcement of building and safety codes. Within three days of the collapse, protests had spread to Chittagong, the second-largest city.

At least 200 factories were closed during parts of May because of worker walkouts and political strikes, said Nur Mohammad Amin Rasel, an official with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

As recently as late September, at least 400 factories were forced to close as workers demanding a monthly minimum wage of $100 demonstrated in the streets.

The owners’ lobby carefully watches protests, and what they cost them. A BGMEA survey of 35 companies, conducted from March 28 to April 23, found that strikes known as hartals — which are organized by the political opposition, not unions — forced factories to spend $3.16 million on air freight to meet their shipping deadlines. Others who relied on cargo ships had to pay late delivery discounts of $1.2 million.

The surveyed companies reportedly spent a collective $1.1 million to repair vandalized buildings and lost $2.6 million in cancelled orders.

Followed after work

Shikdur lives in a one-room shack with her cousin and her cousin’s husband. The corrugated metal walls are so thin that you can clearly hear the neighbours’ conversations. The roof is a blue tarp tied to a rusty sheet of tin.

Shikdur sleeps on a mattress of stacked cardboard, bound by twine and tucked beneath a single bedsheet. It’s rough but better than the concrete floor where her cousin tosses and turns each night next to her husband.

“She’s younger,” Shikdur’s cousin Salma Begum said. “And she needs a good sleep with the (union) work she is doing.”

Shikdur has often been followed after work by a group of men. They taunt her and demand she abandon her efforts to organize. One man has phoned her cellphone repeatedly and threatened to break her hands. The police weren’t interested, she said.

The harassment started before Shikdur’s union was certified and has continued since.

“At one point, I saw the men standing there on our factory floor,” Shikdur said. “They don’t work there. They shouldn’t have been there but the owner let them in to scare me.”

Shikdur delivered a list of 18 demands, including an immediate salary increase of 12 per cent; fire drills every three months; a bonus each Eid equal to an employee’s monthly salary; and $1.36 for dinner money when employees are asked to work overtime to fill urgent shipments.

“We will give them some time, and then we will strike,” Shikdur said. “I don’t think there will be a problem convincing employees.”

Mohammad Tanvir Ahamed, the head of compliance for Natural Apparels, insisted that Shikdur has not been followed or threatened and that workers have been paid their full overtime.

“We have had no problems,” Ahamed said as he stood in front of a stack of H&M corduroys. “Everything here is fine.”

In an emailed statement to the Star, H&M spokesperson Anna Eriksson wrote that the retailer “fully supports any workers wishing to organize.”

“H&M does not accept disciplinary or discriminatory actions from the employer against employees who choose to peacefully and lawfully organize or join an association.

“In April 2013, after a constructive dialogue with H&M, the management from Natural Apparels Ltd agreed that registration of trade unions is a workers matter and that management cannot interfere in any way. In May 2013, H&M’s auditors conducted follow-up worker interviews which indicated this was no longer an issue at Natural Apparels Ltd. No contradictory information has come to our attention since then, neither from the union at Natural Apparels or from Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation.”

Eriksson wouldn’t discuss Shikdur’s complaints. “Out of consideration for the employees at our supplier, we choose not to comment on specific workers,” she wrote.

Eriksson said H&M plans to “look into” Natural Apparels again.

Friends in high office

The garment sector is well-represented in Bangladesh’s parliament. Tipu Munshi, a member of the parliamentary standing committee on textile and jute, owns Sepal Garments. Another factory owner, Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury, was commerce minister and remains an MP.

In all, 60 per cent of the 300 members of Bangladesh’s parliament have direct or indirect ownership interests in the garment sector, said Iftikhar Zaman, executive director of Transparency International’s Bangladeshi unit.

“It’s a sad trend,” Zaman said. “In our first parliament as a country after 1971, 18 per cent of our parliamentarians were businessmen. The rest were doctors, social workers, lawyers, professions like that. Now, more than half of our politicians have a financial interest in the garment factories.

“Our political leaders don’t talk in terms of what workers deserve. They talk in terms of trying to appease international pressure. They do this because they have to, because they are afraid of losing orders, not because they think it’s the proper thing to do.”

One incident highlights the BGMEA’s influence and its ability to blunt enforcement of the law. After the fire at Tazreen Fashions in November, the lobby group’s inspectors reported that four other factories fell short of the building code or labour laws. The owners included BGMEA president Atiqul Islam, Islam’s predecessor and a former vice-president of the association. None of the four owners were prosecuted.

Factory owner Annisul Huq has twice served as president of the BGMEA, whose members account for 80 per cent of the country’s exports and who work with the government on security, building codes and labour issues.

Like other owners, Huq is suspicious of unions because they too often are controlled by corrupt officials.

“This idea of unions is dreamy. ‘Oh, let’s hear the voices of the workers,’ ” Huq said. “But unions will bring chaos. It’s going to shut down our industry. We hear from our friends in Cambodia where they have unions, and the owners there just have to pay bribes to the union leaders.”

Huq, whose company Mohammadi Group makes clothing for customers such as Van Heusen, said the U.S. and other western countries are hypocrites.

“Look at China, where 2,000 people per year die in industrial accidents,” Huq said.

“At least 800 died in the U.K. last year in industrial accidents,” he said.

(For the record, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reports 72,000 workers died in workplace accidents in 2012. According to British government statistics, 148 people died in the U.K. in workplace accidents during the fiscal year ended March 2013.)http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/fatals.htm

“Our problem in Bangladesh is we are too nice,” Huq said. “We open up too much to (the media) with information.”

But since the Rana Plaza collapse, many western journalists have been refused entry to Bangladesh. The Star waited two months for journalist visas to travel to Bangladesh, during which time neither the officer in charge of press visas nor the Bangladeshi high commissioner to Canada returned calls. Star reporters later entered on tourist visas.

Huq also criticized foreign media for coverage of the murder of Islam, the labour activist who was killed in April 2012, two years after he was arrested for helping organize protests in Dhaka. Huq insisted Islam wasn’t killed for his organizing.

“He wasn’t important enough to murder,” Huq said. “I’m sorry he is dead, but until he was murdered I had never even heard of him. And now the U.S. demands better working conditions and unions here.

“Well, the U.S. has just given Colombia free-trade status,” he said. “More than 700 trade union people are killed there and they get free-trade status.”

(According to the International Trade Union Confederation, there were 2,832 murders of trade unionists in Colombia between 1986 and 2010. Congress passed a free-trade law with the South American country in 2011.)

“There is no justice,” Huq said.

 Getting organized

In the waning weeks of 2012, Imran Hossain Hannan and three co-workers quietly organized a union.

Hannan, 22, started work at the factory in October 2010, and after a few months was sewing zippered flies onto 100 pairs of pants each hour.

“No one can do more than me,” Hannan said during a recent evening at his home. “One day I will do 150.”

Hannan had only worked at the Rebecca Fashions factory, which has contracts with Canadian firms Reitmans and Fame Jeans, for a few weeks before he understood the need for a union.

“We were paid late, never got our overtime, didn’t get bonuses, had low wages and no holidays,” Hannan said. “The women had no maternity leave and we had no daycare centres or doctors. One time in early 2011, a woman was stitching buttons and a needle on a machine went right through her thumb. She went to the hospital and the factory refused to pay.”

In October 2012, Hannan and others filed a union application, and on Dec. 14, their union was registered.

Following his shift on Jan. 15, 2013, stitching pockets on pants headed to Reitmans stores across Canada, Hannan was asked to meet a supervisor.

“He gave me the salary I was owed, and said it wasn’t possible for me to work there anymore,” Hannan said. “I asked why, what did I do wrong? He just said it was dangerous for me to be there.”

Hannan said he and three other union organizers were fired.

The factory’s owner Yasser Khan said Hannan is lying.

“The four at my company were not fired, they quit,” Khan said in an interview. “It’s something you see in Bangladesh.

“They get their pay at the end of the month, they go back to their village for 10 days or so, and when they come back to the city, they look for new work, for more money than they got at their previous job. I didn’t fire them for having a union. I didn’t even know they were forming one.”

Khan, who said his company records a profit margin of about 3 per cent on $8 million in sales each year, agreed to rehire Hannan and the others in August.

“The BGMEA just said it would be best if I rehired them, so fine, I did,” Khan said. “But since Fame Jeans in Canada heard about this case, they have cancelled $150,000 in orders from me. It’s still sitting in my factory.”

Fame Jeans executive Alen Brandman said his company has no knowledge of the firings. “Fame Jeans policy is that if a shipment is late or does not meet our quality standards as per our purchase order we reserve the right to cancel the order,” he wrote in an emailed statement.

 Hannan said it’s good to have his job back.

“The conditions are better. At least there’s a fan overhead. But I’m still insecure. They haven’t told me what my salary is. They just say ‘work and don’t worry about that.’ And I’m not allowed in any common area near other employees.”

Reitmans chief executive Jeremy Reitman said in an interview that the company is investigating Hannan’s claims of being fired unfairly.

“We don’t contract to them directly, but sometimes we use agents for this work, and we may have in this case,” he said. “We’re looking into this.”

‘If you paid more . . .’

Late on a Thursday evening, Shikdur sat on the floor of her home, next to a bowl of shrimp and potato simmering in a green banana curry.

She was flustered after getting into a fight with her supervisor earlier in the day.

“I averaged 130 pieces each hour and they marked me down for 110,” she said. “I said to my supervisor, ‘Why are you doing this? I will complain.’ He said, ‘You go and do whatever you want.’ So I called him a son of a bitch.

“He left and went to the compliance office and filed a complaint. I got a warning notice.”

Her cousin Begum looks concerned. “This is not safe,” she says.

Shikdur clucks her tongue and tucks her hair behind her ear. She knows that it’s possible she’ll wake up one day soon without a job.

“I just wish people in the north just paid a bit more for your clothing,” she said. “You spend more on a shirt than I make in a month. Maybe if you paid just a bit more, we could have a good life here.”