A young Lao worker was beaten, shocked and tied up by his employers at a Chinese banana plantation in northwestern Laos in a dispute over working hours, his relatives said.
Lou Xiong’s relatives say he was beaten and shocked by Lao and Chinese employers at a Chinese banana plantation in Hin Heuap District of Vientiane Province after he told them he was “too tired” to work.
His employers — the Phaly Company which runs a 500-hectare banana farm with several hundred workers – denied they beat Lou Xiong and said he walked off the job during harvest season in violation of his contract.
“I’m human. I’m too tired. It’s already 7:00 pm. I can’t work anymore. I’ll come back to work tomorrow,” a relative of Lou Xiong, an ethnic minority Hmong in his late teens, quoted him as describing the incident last week.
“Suddenly, he was beaten up by five Lao and Chinese men, then taken to the office where he was held at knife point and asked by the Chinese boss: ‘Do you want to die?’” the relative, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFA’s Lao Service.
Lou Xiong and his wife, who also worked at the plantation were told to take their personal belongings, and given 3 million kip ($331), the relative said.
RFA was unable to independently verify the family’s account of the incident.
Writing on social media on July 27, a day after the incident, his father said Lou Xiong was beaten up at Viengkham Banana Plantation and that he had reported the beating to village authorities, who are investigating.
“He was too tired and asked his boss, a Lao, then the interpreter told the Chinese boss, who brought electric equipment then shocked him and took a rope and tied him up like a pig.”
Lou Xiong’s hands and feet with a rope and he was electrically shocked and beaten on the face, body, back, neck, legs and arms, his father wrote.
He was then carried to a pick-up truck and taken to a location where he was forced to sign a document and finger printed, the father added.
“He (the worker) was not beaten up; he was not beaten up that much, not as much as the father said in the video clip,” a representative from Phaly Company, the farm owner, told RFA.
“The worker breached the contract. This is the time of the year to harvest bananas, everybody should be working hard,” he said.
“The foreman said that he said he had a gun, so the foreman had no choice but to tie him up,” added the company representative, who said Lou Xiong became angry and threatened plantation personnel.
Lou Xiong’s relatives, however, said he does not own a gun and did not have a weapon.
“I saw the clip and I knew that it happened in Viengkham Village but did not know in what district,” said an official of the Agriculture and Forestry Department of the Hin Heuap District.
“If we had known, we would have gone there and taken a look at the case. If the beating really took place in our district, our authorities will step in,” he told RFA.
Concerns over chemical run-off from heavily polluting Chinese-owned banana plantations led in January 2017 to government orders forbidding new banana concessions, though many farms remained in operation and the ban was lifted the following year in order to attract investment.
Banana farming is a major source of employment in rural Laos, with 100 hectares of planted land employing 100 people in nurseries, planting and harvesting, researchers say.
But illnesses and deaths have long been reported among Lao workers exposed to chemicals on foreign-owned banana farms. Chemical run-off from the farms has also polluted many of the country’s waterways, killing fish and fouling drinking water.
Some Laos are also concerned about growing Chinese influence as a result of massive investment in hydropower dams and other infrastructure projects under Beijing’s $1.3 trillion Belt and Road Initiative. China is Laos’ largest foreign investor and aid provider, and its second-largest trade partner, after Thailand.