The inclusion of fish from Taiwan in the US Department of Labor’s biennial list of goods believed to be produced by child or forced labor should have come as no surprise to anyone in the government or the public.
The list, published on Wednesday, itemized 155 goods or products from 77 nations, with fish from the Taiwanese distant-water fleet among the two dozen or so items that were added since the last report in 2018.
Taiwan just had one item allegedly produced by forced labor, compared with Brazil’s 24 items, China’s 17 or Bangladesh’s 15, to name but a few, allegedly produced by child or forced labor. However, this is not a distinction that anyone should be happy about.
Efforts by officials from the Fisheries Agency and the Council of Agriculture on Thursday to downplay the significance of Taiwan making the list do neither this nation nor the Taiwanese and migrant fishers employed by the deep-water fleet any good.
The government has known for several years that lax regulations and loose oversight have contributed to the fleet’s poor reputation, even before the European Commission on Oct. 1, 2015, issued a “yellow card” to Taiwan for being “uncooperative” in fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
While the yellow card did make the government start to tackle the problem by introducing reforms to the legal framework governing the fishery industry — which resulted in the commission lifting its warning on June 27 last year — it has been nowhere near enough to clean up the industry.
Investigations by Greenpeace East Asia and other groups last year highlighted the continued abuse of migrant fishers on Taiwanese-flagged or Taiwanese-owned vessels as well as environmentally destructive practices.
The warning bells continued to ring loudly this year, from Greenpeace East Asia’s March report, Choppy Waters — Forced Labour and Illegal Fishing in Taiwan’s Distant Water Fisheries, and the May 11 announcement by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that it has placed a Withhold Release Order (WRO) on merchandise made with seafood harvested by the Taiwanese-flagged Yu Long No. 2, to the Aug. 7 announcement by two Control Yuan members of an investigation into the alleged lenient treatment of two Taiwanese long-liners and the CBP’s Aug. 18 announcement that a WRO had been placed on all seafood harvested by the Vanuatu-flagged and Taiwanese-owned Da Wang.
The Labor Department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs said that the list is not intended to be punitive, but to help address the problems. However, it acknowledged that companies rely on the report for their risk assessments and conduct due diligence on their supply chains, consumers use it to inform their purchase decisions, and US government agencies use it to help monitor federal procurement and imports.
The Fisheries Agency said it is looking at possible legal amendments to prohibit foreign ships with proven allegations of crew abuse from docking in the nation. That is disingenuous, given that two of the most flagrant abusers of IUU rules and labor practices, the Da Wang and Chin Chun 12, have been able to return to Kaohsiung time and again, despite the agency referring the ships to Kaohsiung prosecutors for investigation.
Taiwan’s inclusion in the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor means that US imports of fish from Taiwanese suppliers could come under close scrutiny by the CBP and supply chains could be at risk of suspension, perhaps not this month or next, but in the not so distant future.
The EU’s warning prompted the government to seriously engage on long-overdue reforms. Hopefully the US report will spur it to finish the job.
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