Early last month, the US State Department downgraded Taiwan to its "tier two" watch list in its latest Trafficking in Persons Report.
This was the second time the country has been downgraded since the annual report was first released two years ago. Other countries listed in the watch list include China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Israel.
According to the report, countries that fail to provide evidence of increasing efforts to tackle the problem of human trafficking in the previous year are put on the "tier two" watch list.
"Tier three" is the worst level of all, and countries placed on that list may face economic sanctions from the US.
Taiwan was placed on the level two watch list particularly for "the failure to address the serious level of forced labor and sexual servitude among legally migrating Southeast Asian contract workers and brides."
The report said Taiwan continues to view the approximately 20,000 "runaway" foreign workers merely as people who seek to work in Taiwan illegally, and therefore the government simply detains and deports them upon capture.
However, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Taiwan told the US inspectors compiling the report that these workers often run away from their jobs because of abuse, forced labor or sexual servitude, the report said.
The US report also criticized the nation for lacking comprehensive investigations, prosecutions and punishments for involuntary servitude.
On April 12, the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) announced that companies or individuals caught hiring foreign workers illegally will be fined up to NT$750,000.
But even though the council also began inspecting businesses employing large numbers of foreign workers, "there were no cases referred for investigation or prosecution by law enforcement or judicial authorities," the report said.
The government's effort to ensure that foreign spouses and workers understand their rights and know where to turn for help was described by the US as "modest" and "minimal."
Although the council established 24 offices across the nation to offer abused foreign laborers counseling and other services last year, the offices do not provide overnight shelter for these victims, according to the report. The only available shelters for victims in the country are NGO facilities, it said.
Responding to the criticism in the US report, the director of the council's Foreign Labor Section, Tsai Meng-liang (
Tsai said he could not make further comments until this week, when the council will issue its official response to the US.
However, the council's foreign labor policies have been repeatedly criticized by both local and foreign NGOs, particularly after Thai workers at Kaohsiung Rapid Transit construction sites rioted to protest their broker's inhumane treatment last August.
Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation chairwoman Kao Hsiao-fan (高小帆) said the case of the Thai workers had aroused concerns among international human rights groups.
She told the Taipei Times on Friday that the foundation had anticipated the downgrading three months before the US report was released.
Kao said that when the US inspectors came to Taiwan earlier this year, several civic groups that fight human trafficking had submitted a petition to Minister of the Council of Labor Affairs Lee Ying-yuan (李應元) concerning the rights of foreign workers.