The Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone celebrated its 15th anniversary this month amid much fanfare and media coverage domestically.
The Zone, located along the Mekong River in Ton Pheung District, Bokeo Province, borders Myanmar and Thailand at a point in the Mekong where the three countries meet, lending the area its name.
It was developed by Dok Ngiew Kham Group under a 50-year concession signed by the Government of Laos in 2007. The company holds a concession on 3,000 hectares of land, as well as a 7,000 hectares protected area.
According to the Lao Ministry of Planning and Investment, the Zone was developed to promote investment and infrastructure in Bokeo. It now boasts paved streets, retail shops, restaurants and entertainment venues, and a brand new international airport.
The major attraction at the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is the Kings Romans Casino, which drew international attention when the US Treasury officially placed the casino on its organized crime sanctions blacklist.
More Oversight Needed to Ensure Labor Protection
But the Golden Triangle repeatedly makes headlines for labor disputes and other issues as migrants from around the region flock to the site in search of high-paying jobs.
Thailand recently requested assistance from authorities in Laos to assist a number of its citizens who had become trapped in Bokeo Province.
Governor of Chiang Rai Province, Phassakorn Boonyalak, called on the Governor of the Lao province of Bokeo to seek the return of some 15 young Thais who had been smuggled into Laos to work in a skimming operation.
The returnees said they were offered BHT 30,000 per month to work as Facebook page administrators, however, when they arrived, they were forced to create fake Facebook profiles and find victims to scam.
As a result, Thailand’s Department of Consular Affairs posted a notice on its Facebook page this month warning its citizens of being duped into traveling to work in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone.
The Malaysian Embassy to Laos has issued a warning to its citizens as well after many Malays suffered similar fates.
The Lao Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare has said it is working with Bokeo Province to solve the problem of unlawful labor practices in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, beginning to collect data on workers in the Zone in October last year.
The announcement came after a protest was staged by laborers from Myanmar in the SEZ after a Covid-19 lockdown saw them trapped in the zone and forced to pay for vaccinations. Unable to leave but not being paid, the workers took to the streets for hours before authorities conceded to providing housing, food, and Covid-19 vaccinations during the lockdown period.
Finally, the workers were released from the zone after discussions between its operators and Bokeo Province authorities.
The Government of Laos responded to criticism by issuing new regulations mandating the signing of labor contracts between employers and all workers in the zone.
According to the new regulations, both the employer and the employee must sign the employment contract in their local language, with the contract to be used when addressing labor disputes within the SEZ.
Concerns About Health and Safety of Service Industry Workers
The public security office of the Golden Triangle SEZ issued a notice in February 2021 stating that over thirty female workers had tested positive for sexually transmitted diseases.
Tests were conducted by authorities on some 431 women employed in the service industry the SEZ in a rare admission about the issue.
According to the notice, the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone sees women of many different nationalities working in the service industry, at the time counting 224 Lao nationals, 108 Chinese, 79 Burmese, and others from Thailand, Vietnam, and Russia.