Chinese online classifieds platform 58.com has come under heavy criticism after a Chinese national said he was tricked by one of its job advertisements – and became the victim of a human trafficking ring in Cambodia.
The company, China’s equivalent of Craigslist, told state media on Thursday it would cooperate with a police investigation in Cambodia although it had “not yet established” whether the fraudulent job ad had been on its platform.
On Wednesday, Beijing Youth Daily published an interview with the man who said he had been trafficked last June after going to the southwestern region of Guangxi in response to a job advert on 58.com for work as a nightclub bouncer.
He said he was smuggled to the Cambodian coastal city of Sihanoukville by a criminal gang and later forced to work for various telemarketing fraud schemes.
In September, his captors began carrying out repeated extractions of blood from him after he refused to work, which put his life in danger.
The Chinese embassy in Cambodia on Thursday in a statement gave his surname as Li and confirmed parts of his story, but did not mention 58.com.
“The Chinese embassy in Cambodia once again reminds Chinese citizens who want to work in Cambodia to follow formal channels and not to believe in false adverts for high-paying jobs,” the statement said.
Sihanoukville has in recent years seen a surge of Chinese investment and immigration, mainly in casinos, which are banned in mainland China.
The Cambodian beachside resort was transformed by the opening of dozens of casinos, but the boom ended in late 2019 when the Hun Sen government cracked down on online gambling, with help from Beijing, and many of the more than 60 casinos were closed.
Casinos still operating in the town were then ordered to shut after the coronavirus epidemic spread in March 2020.
In April 2021, the US Institute for Peace produced a report which alleged that Chinese triads operating in Sihanoukville had left and set up operations in a notorious Chinese enclave called Shwe Kokko on the Thai-Myanmar border opposite Mae Sot.
Illegal online gambling operations targeting the mainland market are often run in overseas territories like Cambodia, Myanmar or the Philippines, where enforcement is less strict or more prone to corruption.
58.com’s response to state media went viral on Friday, drawing over 200 million views on Chinese social media platform Weibo.
Users accused 58.com of a wide range of unethical practices, from the high number of scams on the platform to the indiscriminate purchase and selling of user data.
The claims could not be verified and 58.com could not be immediately reached for comment.
The company in 2020 was taken private by a consortium of investors who were backed by private equity firms Warburg Pincus and General Atlantic.
- Reuters, with additional editing by George Russell, Jim Pollard