Summary of HRC webinar: Cyber Slavery in the scamming compounds of Cambodia

London 8 September

Survivors of human trafficking in Cambodia, modern slavery activists, academics, journalists, and policymakers were amongst those who participated in the webinar “Tackling the Emerging “Slavery behind Scams” through policies “that was co-hosted by Humanity Research Consultancy (HRC) along with The Mekong Club and Cambridge Centre for Applied Research in Human Trafficking (CCARHT) this week.

The webinar was organised against the backdrop of a dangerously emerging global trend in modern slavery where tens and thousands are trafficked and coerced to work in Cambodia’s notorious cyber slavery camps that run sophisticated online scams worldwide.

Speaking from Hong Kong, Matthew Freidman of the Mekong Club — which works with businesses to promote sustainable practices in the fight against modern slavery — said that the emerging nature of cyber slavery as seen in Cambodia is a “concerning phenomenon”  and warned that that could spread to other countries as pressure is mounted on Cambodia by the governments of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand to crack down on online scams that have deep linkages with human trafficking.

Dr Carrie Ford, director of CCARHT, said more efforts need to be made by the technology companies to make their platform more resilient to ward off potential intrusion and sabotage by cyber criminals running “semi industrialised” scamming. Given the complex nature of the crime, she also emphasised that the law and judicial systems must be more vigilant whilst trying cases of such nature as sometimes there are often overlapping lines between the actual criminals and the victims.

Mina Chiang, the founder and director of HRC, presented facts detailing the modus operandi of Cambodia’s online scams, and their precise locations. Based on the testimonies of survivors she described with evidence from ground investigations the brutality with which the masterminds behind the scams enslave tens of thousands of innocent victims by keeping them in forced captivity, torturing and sexually assaulting them. 

She highlighted that the victims trapped in the scamming compounds that house hundreds of well-fenced tall buildings are trafficked predominately from the southeast and south Asian countries but there are also victims from countries in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and even North America. The victims are mostly 18-30 years old, but there are reports of victims as young as fourteen. 

Chiang also outlined the multipronged steps that HRC has been taking to combat cyber slavery including setting up a survivors support fund, working with Taiwanese police and advocating with the government and NGOs for coordinated rescue efforts and data collection. 

Ah Wei, a survivor, who just escaped from one of the scamming compounds very recently narrated his ordeal. The young airline engineer from Taiwan was promised better opportunities in Cambodia. Once he arrived his passport was confiscated and taken to a scamming compound. He was kept captive for a while and was sold further to another company in Myanmar. Wei escaped by jumping off the car whilst he was being transported to Myanmar from Thailand.

The webinar ended with a question-and-answer session with a consensus that more actors, especially financial institutions and technology experts need to play a larger role to tackle the menace of online scams. Several stakeholders participating in the webinar expressed interest to collaborate to tackle the issue more strongly on the ground.

“An utterly shocking presentation, brilliant research and brave testimony.” “Thanks for sharing this. It is very informative and very very brave for all speakers here.” – participants’ feedback.