Fish caught by vessels bearing Taiwan’s national flag have been classified as products of forced labor, based on the conditions under which the crews work, an annual report by the US Department of Labor said on Wednesday.
The Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor report said that Taiwan’s longline fishing fleet of 1,100 vessels, the world’s second-largest after China’s, employs about 35,000 migrant workers, mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines.
“Similar to crews on Chinese-flagged vessels, crews on Taiwan-flagged vessels face confiscation of documents, long days with little rest, physical and verbal abuse, and lack of payment,” the report said.
Taiwan’s inclusion in the report means that US companies buying fish from Taiwanese suppliers could come under close scrutiny at US customs and the supply chain could be at risk of suspension.
However, the Fisheries Agency yesterday said that the nation’s fish exports to the US from its distant-water catch would not immediately be affected.
The agency said its top priorities are to improve the welfare of migrant fishers, ensure the observance of laws by the fishing industry and to keep the US informed of the nation’s efforts on such issues.
Council of Agriculture Deputy Minister Chen Tien-shou (陳添壽) said that the human rights of fishery workers is an intra-agency concern that also involves the Presidential Office, adding that the government in 2017 amended the nation’s laws to comply with the International Labour Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention.
The agency is launching a trial project to install wireless networks on ships, so that migrant workers can remain in contact with their friends and family, Chen said.
“Having the Internet on ships would also allow further transparency of information about what is happening on the ship,” he said.
Fisheries Agency Director-General Chang Chih-sheng (張致盛) said that the government would continue its dialogue with the US.
The nation’s management of its longline fishing fleet has improved significantly over the year and the government has established facilities for rest and recreation in major fishing ports, such as Pingtung County’s Donggang (東港) and Yilan County’s Suao (蘇澳), Chang said.
The government is also collaborating with local welfare and religious groups to provide religious services for migrant workers, he said.
The agency is further looking to amend the law so that the government would be able to prohibit foreign ships from docking in the nation should incidents of crew abuse be proven, he added.
Greenpeace USA senior oceans adviser Andy Shen said that major US retailers, such as Walmart and Costco, and national tuna brands, such as Bumble Bee that are supplied by the Taiwanese fleet would have to assure their customers that they are not profiting from and perpetuating modern slavery on the high seas.
“The companies have a responsibility to use their economic power to change the Taiwanese government’s and seafood industry’s human rights and environmental policies and practices,” Shen said.
Taiwan-based Human Rights for Migrant Fishers urged the government to introduce laws before the end of the current legislative session to enhance the protections and rights of migrant fishers, and to end forced labor and human trafficking on Taiwanese-flagged vessels.
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