BROOKLYN, New York — Human trafficking is the use of force, coercion or fraud to exploit victims for labor or other services. Millions of people are trafficked worldwide yearly — the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 40 million people around the world “were victims of modern slavery” in 2016 alone. Human trafficking in Macau is particularly notorious, prompting anti-trafficking efforts from organizations.
Human Trafficking in Macau
Macau is one of Asia’s major resort cities and is also internationally recognized as a top destination for gambling and gaming tourism. In 2016, the territory’s gaming industry produced revenue seven times higher than that of Las Vegas. Within this industry and other major industries, there is an increasing prevalence of human trafficking.
In Macau, many unsuspecting people fall victim to trafficking through false advertisements promising legitimate jobs. The 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report released by the U.S. State Department indicates that Macau did not initiate any trafficking investigations or prosecutions or convict any traffickers in 2020. As a result, information on the number of people trafficked in Macau yearly is scarce.
Macau’s heavy reliance on migrant labor creates opportunities for traffickers to exploit their victims. Victims of human trafficking in Macau originate primarily from mainland China, Russia and Southeast Asia. Traffickers lure victims in through false advertisements for supposedly legitimate jobs, such as singing and modeling or work in casinos and massage parlors.
Traffickers force many victims into sex work in massage parlors, nightclubs, hotels and even private homes. To secure compliance, the victims are subject to close monitoring and threats of violence. Traffickers force victims to work long hours and may even confiscate their identity documents to prevent escape.
An investigation carried out by This Week in Asia in October 2019 found that casinos in Macau allow staff to collaborate with criminal networks to facilitate illegal sex work within their establishments — a likely contributing factor to sex trafficking. Employment agencies in the territory also occasionally overcharge workers approximately two to three months’ worth of salary for recruitment fees while withholding their passports, with the State Department recognizing it as “potentially leading to debt-based coercion”.
What is the Government Doing?
The State Department’s report indicates that “the government maintained weak protection efforts, and for the second consecutive year, authorities did not identify or provide services to any victims.” For this reason, Macau ranks on the Tier 2 Watch List. Shortly after the release of the report, Macau’s Secretary for Security Wong Sio Chak released a statement condemning the report’s findings on Macau as well as its Tier 2 Watch List classification.
“The report ranked the Macau SAR as on the Tier 2 Watch List. The Macau security authorities found such references to Macau in the report extremely unreasonable and unacceptable,” Wong said. Wong also referenced the work done in partnership with non-governmental organizations in coordinating the protection of victims and the formulation of preventive and combative measures as part of his condemnation.
in 2020, the Macanese “government amended the law regulating the hiring of migrant workers to ban migrants from seeking employment in Macau while under a tourist visa,” in an effort to reduce potential opportunities for worker exploitation. However, some observers note that the change may now “increase costs for migrant workers to come to Macau and thereby increase their risk of facing debt-based coercion.”
The Legislative Assembly of Macau has also passed legislation that became effective in March 2021, establishing new policies for employment agencies to follow. The new laws include limiting the amount of fees agencies could charge migrant workers to no more than 50% of the first months’ salary and banning “the withholding of workers’ identity documents or other personal belongings.”
Good Shepherd Asia Pacific
Good Shepherd Asia Pacific is an NGO working to raise awareness of the human trafficking situation in Macau. Over the past 15 years, the organization has set up crisis centers to shelter young female victims and has also hosted various workshops and seminars to better inform the general public on sex trafficking and human trafficking in general.
Good Shepherd also collaborates with the Macanese government on its anti-trafficking commission. The commission, established in 2008, provides public lectures to various groups and organizations and sets up bus advertisements to educate locals about child trafficking victims, among other measures.
Good Shepherd Asia Pacific’s website does not shy away from the fact that it is virtually impossible to estimate how many young women are safeguarded from the lure of trafficking as a result of its community awareness programs. However, the organization did indicate that more than 50 girls between the ages of 14 and 17 received shelter in crisis centers between June 2012 and 2016.
Human trafficking in Macau is a pressing issue due to the city’s status as a tourism and gambling hotspot potentially contributing to the problem. Additionally, the scarcity of information available on human trafficking victims in Macau makes it harder for NGOs to accurately identify the number of people that need help. However, groups such as Good Shepherd Asia Pacific should be commended for their excellent ongoing work in trying to safeguard young men and women from the lure of trafficking.
– Brian Yue