Laos authorities act to protect women workers

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Posted: March 2, 2022, 1:41 a.m.

Last update: March 2, 2022, 2:34 a.m.

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

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

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

Zhao rules the area as his personal fiefdom, a “lawless playground catering to the desires of players and visiting Chinese tourists”, in the words of the UK Environmental Investigation Agency. The casino is a two-hour drive 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 “horrible illicit activities”.

The U.S. Treasury Department says activities include “human trafficking and child prostitution, drug trafficking, and wildlife trafficking,” most of which is handled by the casino.

Tricked into prostitution

Recent reports of women being tricked into selling sex at Kings Romans Casino have prompted local authorities to act.

Radio Libre Asia reports that the management office of Bokeo SEZ has drawn up a set of rules that oblige all employers and workers of GT-SEZ to sign employment contracts.

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

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

The Bokeo prosecutor’s office said FRG this week, a better solution would be for the government of Laos to give more power to the police and various government authorities to police the area and crack down on human trafficking.

Corrupt government

But the nominally communist government is notoriously corrupt and is partnered with the politically connected Zhao in the GT-SEZ. The government established the area in 2007 with the help of Zhao Investment. He is believed to have a 20% stake in the project compared to Zhao’s 80%.

In February, FRG reported that 19 Lao women were rescued by GT-SEZ police, many of whom escaped through a fence.

Many women were lured into the area with the promise of “chat-girl” jobs, selling casino shares to wealthy patrons.

They agreed to go into debt to fund their demands and moving expenses, but were forced into prostitution to pay off those debts when they failed to meet the incredibly high sales targets.

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