Laos Authorities Move to Protect Female Workers

Home » Laos Authorities Move to Protect Female Workers

Posted on: March 2, 2022, 01:41h. 

Last updated on: March 2, 2022, 01:41h.

Authorities in Bokeo province in Laos, Southeast Asia, have drawn up new regulations to fight the exploitation of female workers in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (GTSEZ). The zone includes the notorious Kings Romans Casino. But can the rules be enforced in the semi-lawless region?

Kings Romans Casino
Real-life Bond villain Zhao Wei runs the Golden Triangle SEZ as a “lawless playground” for Chinese tourists. (Image: Twitter)

The GT-SEZ dominates the tiny province, which is Laos’ smallest and least populated, despite being home to 34 separate ethnic groups. And the GT-SEZ itself is dominated by Kings Romans Group owner Zhao Wei.

Zhao runs the zone like his personal fiefdom, a “lawless playground catering to the desires of visiting Chinese gamblers and tourists,” in the words of the UK’s Environmental Investigation Agency. The casino is two hours by road from China, where gambling is illegal.

Zhao has been sanctioned by the US government, which describes his company as a “transnational criminal organization” that engages in “horrendous illicit activities.”

According to the US Treasury Department, these include “human trafficking and child prostitution, drug trafficking, and wildlife trafficking,” most of which is run through the casino.

Duped into Prostitution

Recent reports of women being duped into selling sex at the Kings Romans Casino have spurred local officials into action.

Radio Free Asia reports that the Bokeo SEZ Management Office has drawn up a set of rules that require all GT-SEZ employers and workers to sign labor contracts.

These will dictate that workers must have safety in the workplace, insurance benefits, and fair wages. Forced labor is prohibited, and employees must agree to regular monitoring of workplace and living conditions by the management office.

But critics say officials will struggle to enforce these contracts. Local authorities have limited powers to operate within the GT-SEZ, and their access is restricted.

The Bokeo Prosecutors Office told RFA this week a better solution would be for the Lao government to give more power to the police and various governmental authorities to monitor the zone and crackdown on human trafficking.

Corrupt Government

But the nominally Communist government is notoriously corrupt and is in partnership with politically connected Zhao in the GT-SEZ. The government established the zone in 2007 with the help of Zhao’s investment. It’s believed to hold a 20 percent interest in the project to Zhao’s 80 percent.

In February, RFA reported that 19 Lao women had been rescued by police from the GT-SEZ, many of whom had escaped through a fence.

Many of the women were lured to the zone with the promise of jobs as “chat-girls,” selling shares in the casino to wealthy patrons.

They agreed to take on debts to finance their applications and moving expenses but were forced into prostitution to pay off those debts when they failed to meet the impossibly high sales targets.

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