Thousands of Chinese migrants working as promoters at a gambling conglomerate in the Philippines are subject to slave-like conditions in a strictly controlled facility, an investigative report by The Beijing News revealed Monday.
The Chinese workers at the Pearl Plaza in metro Manila gave grueling testimonies of their jobs, which consist of 12-hour shifts and seven-day work weeks with only one day off per month, according to the investigation. The Chinese workers also said that Oriental Group — a gaming operator with offices in the Pearl Plaza — seized their passports and crammed up to a dozen people in a single dorm room. Male workers also described having to pretend they were women during online chats in order to tease money out of customers. The conditions are so bad that the employees refer to the Pearl Plaza as the “Oriental Prison.”
“I’ve been having trouble distinguishing night from day because of overwork,” one male worker told The Beijing News. “I have to pretend I’m a woman to seduce men — I feel like I’ll go crazy.”
When Sixth Tone contacted Oriental Group’s headquarters on Tuesday to verify these allegations, a female employee said the company is currently not accepting interview requests.
Gambling is a booming industry in the Philippines, where it brings in billions of dollars in revenue and attracts visitors from countries where such activity is banned. The Philippines also has several offshore gambling companies catering specifically to Chinese clientele, who benefit from preferential visa policies or are able to place their bets remotely. The surge in Chinese visitors means more Philippine companies are now seeking Mandarin-speaking employees, which in turn has given rise to agencies in China that recruit fresh graduates to fill such jobs.
Dong Yu, a Beijing-based talent scout for Oriental Group, told a Beijing News reporter posing as a prospective hire that over the next three years, his agency aims to send 10,000 college graduates for foreign employment in the gambling industry. Dong claimed that his firm — officially a software company called Guiguhui — has an agreement with universities to pay the schools 1,000 yuan ($140) for each graduate hired. However, Guiguhui denied Dong’s claims on Tuesday in a follow-up interview with The Beijing News.
On its official website, Oriental Group markets itself as “Asia’s leading gaming operator” in both the online and offline sectors. Headhunters like Dong promote the company as the Philippine equivalent of e-commerce giant Alibaba. Recruitment strategies often entail luring young people who are desperate to find high-paying jobs, even at the expense of initially taking on debt. Earlier this year, a man from northwestern Shaanxi province told China Business News that he paid 16,000 yuan to a recruiting agency to get a job with Oriental Group that paid a monthly salary of 6,000 to 8,000 yuan, plus other performance-dependent financial incentives.
The Chinese workers interviewed by The Beijing News said Oriental Group forced them to pay exorbitant fines of up to 100,000 pesos (12,900 yuan) — twice as much as their salaries — for taking photos of the premises, failing to achieve performance goals, or taking lunch breaks longer than 30 minutes. Some of the workers said they were beaten and forced to eat rotten eggs as forms of punishment.
“Almost all of my money went toward paying the penalties,” one worker told The Beijing News. “I haven’t saved anything, even after working here for half a year.”
Last year, after an uptick in labor-related incidents involving Chinese nationals, the Chinese Embassy in Manila issued a statement warning its citizens to carefully vet potential employers before coming to the Philippines. The embassy said it had received multiple calls from Chinese people whose passports had been confiscated by their employers, and who were forced to work in illegal gambling dens. In 2016, Philippine authorities detained 1,300 Chinese nationals who had been working illegally at unlicensed online gaming centers.
Su Guojing, founder of the Asian Responsible Gaming Alliance, told Sixth Tone that the Philippines has strengthened its supervision of online gambling in recent years, largely because of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s tough stance on gaming. Last week, Duterte said that the country would not open any new casinos.
However, Duterte’s sharp tone hasn’t stopped certain unscrupulous individuals and groups from exploiting others. “Eventually,” Su said, “any gambling place that doesn’t focus on responsible behavior will not only fail to flourish financially, but also become mired in trouble.”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Chinese nationals are detained for working illegally in online gambling, Taguig City, metro Manila, Philippines, July 22, 2015. Francis R. Malasig/EPA/IC)