Poor formers in Cambodia are convinced to leave home on the promise of better work in Thailand. Many are finding themselves on long-haul trawlers in the South China Sea and forced to work against their will.
"It's slavery. There's no other way to describe it," Lim Tith, national project coordinator for the U.N. Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking, told the United Nations' humanitarian news agency IRIN.
Exploitation is spreading beyond Cambodia and Thailand to Malaysia and Indonesian waters, with 25 men reportedly in slave-like conditions documented regionally this year.
"It's not just women and children anymore," San Arun, chairwoman of the Cambodian Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking taskforce, told IRIN.
Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the U.N. special envoy on human trafficking, said following a tour of Thailand that the country needs to do more to address demands for exploitative labor, a root cause of human trafficking.
Ezeilo testified from Bangkok that the number of people trafficked for forced labor in the agriculture, construction and fishing industries is growing in scale.
"Root causes of trafficking, particularly demands for cheap and exploitative labor provided by migrant workers, are not being effectively addressed," she said.