The directors of two labor recruiting companies in Cambodia accused of human trafficking by more than 100 victims are on the run and likely hiding outside of the country, authorities said, after several rights organizations pressured the government to apprehend the men.
Rights groups CARAM-Cambodia, Licadho and Adhoc said they have received complaints from 102 victims against domestic labor recruiter T&P Co. Ltd. and Taiwanese firm Giant Ocean International Fishery Co. Ltd. facing charges of human trafficking, rights abuses, torture, and kidnapping.
The three groups jointly appealed to the Ministry of Labor, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, and the Ministry of Justice to order the two firms to compensate the trafficking victims and to arrest their local chiefs.
But according to Anti-human Trafficking Deputy Director General Chiv Phally, who is investigating the allegations, the two directors have fled the country to avoid arrest and questioning by the court.
“T&P Co. is owned by Sam Pisey, a Khmer national,” the investigator said. “Sam Pisey is hiding outside Cambodia because he knows that the police have had an arrest warrant out for him since 2011.”
The Taiwanese local head of Giant Ocean International “is hiding outside of Cambodia as well,” he said, adding that investigations are under way.
Moeun Tola, the head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), said that while Giant Ocean International is headquartered in Taiwan, the company had maintained a branch office in Phnom Penh which functioned as a domestic labor supply firm.
The office has been closed since early 2012, according to the rights groups.
“They had operated the office without the company logo or any signage,” Moeun Tola said, adding that he had no contact information for the branch office since it was officially shuttered.
Moeun Tola said that the CLEC recently had trafficking victims take them to the place they were had been recruited, only to find a vacated apartment building.
He confirmed that the authorities have been unable to identify the branch office’s director and that the court is conducting an investigation with the aim of issuing an arrest warrant.
CLEC assisted in the rescue of 10 fishermen allegedly trafficked to Taiwan through Giant Ocean International in 2011 and helped to rehabilitate four fishermen rescued in June from a fishing boat owned by the company that was operating in South African waters.
Moeun Tola charged that T&P Co. was “backed by a high-ranking government official” and that Sam Pisey is only “a small piece of the puzzle,” without elaborating further.
Neither Giant Ocean International nor T&P officials could be reached for immediate comment.
CARAM-Cambodia, Licadho, and Adhoc last week called on the authorities to apprehend the men and to seek compensation for victims who never received their salaries while working as domestic servants in Malaysia or on fishing boats around Southeast Asia.
“The compensation must be on a case-by-case basis. Some victims want compensation, some want the companies’ directors to be prosecuted,” CARAM-Cambodia Executive Director Ya Navuth told a press conference.
“The decision should be made by the court. We, as the civil societies, can only raise the victims’ concerns so that the government can resolve the issue.”
Licadho President Pung Chhiv Kek said that some of the victims who had worked as maids in Malaysia claimed they had been abused and raped, but that the two companies never sought justice for them.
“This problem can’t be swept away,” she said. “The victims have been calling my cell phone.”
Pung Chhiv Kek told RFA that some of the maids she had spoken to said they were placed in the homes of the two companies’ directors, who had used cameras to monitor them. Others said they were forced to sleep in the garage of the homes they worked in and were not given enough food to eat.
A 32-year-old trafficking victim named Mao Sopheak, who said he was sent to work in Fiji’s fishing industry in 2011, told reporters that he had been promised U.S. $150 a month. Instead, he said, he was forced to work 18-20 hours a day and was given no financial compensation.
“Sometimes I worked 29-30 hours. And sometimes they only gave me food every two to three days,” he said.
Precise figures on human trafficking in Cambodia are hard to come by, but the country is known to be a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking.
A primary destination for trafficking victims from Cambodia is neighboring Thailand, where an estimated 100,000 Cambodian migrant workers are living illegally.
Many of them are recruited with the promise of better wages, but soon find themselves deceived about payment and length of service, and without any rights as illegal residents.
In 2011, more than 100 Cambodian men forced into labor on Thai fishing boats were repatriated after escaping from their traffickers or being rescued during raids, the U.S. State Department said in its 2012 global Trafficking in Persons report.
In June, the department honored Cambodian trafficking victim Vannak Anan Prum, who suffered years of forced labor on fishing boats in Thailand and on a plantation in neighboring Malaysia, as one of its “Heroes Working to End Modern-Day Slavery” for artwork he published about his experience.
Reported by Sok Serey and by Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.