Up to 100,000 people from across Asia have been lured to Cambodia by Chinese crime syndicates with the promise of good jobs. When they arrive, their passports are seized and they are put to work in modern-day sweatshops, running cybercrime campaigns.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Cambodia, which was hit hard economically by the pandemic, has allowed Chinese mobsters to set up enormous cybercrime operations using human trafficked labor without consequence, because of the revenue it generates for the country. The campaigns they carry out run the gamut from romance scams to fake sports betting.
Although the Cambodian government acknowledges that as many as 100,000 workers are involved in these activities, it denies anyone is being held against their will. However, the stories from traumatized victims rescued from cybercrime mills include tales of beatings and torture for failing to meet quotas, and of being sold and passed around from gang to gang.
"Instead of getting fired for poor performance, you get physical punishments — forced push-ups and squats, tased, beaten, deprived of food, locked up in dark rooms or worse," Jacob Sims, country director for International Justice Mission Cambodia, a rights group that has rescued many of these victims, told the LA Times. “On the other hand, those who consistently meet or surpass their targets are rewarded with more freedoms, food, money, and control over other victims.”
International scrutiny has ramped up in the last few months on the operations, with the US recently downgrading Cambodia to the lowest tier on its human trafficking index.