Greenpeace and 33 other human rights, environmental and labor organizations from around the world on Thursday called on the government to initiate reforms to address the “persistent and systemic issues of forced labor” on Taiwanese distant-water fishing (DWF) fleets.
The demand comes as fish caught on Taiwan-registered vessels were last month classified as products of forced labor for the first time this year by the US Department of State, a sign that reforms are needed, the coalition said in a statement.
“We call on the Taiwanese government to initiate structural reforms, and ensure fishing vessel owners and seafood traders adhere to all relevant international human rights, labor and environmental standards,” Greenpeace senior adviser Andy Shen said.
Businesses around the world that source from Taiwanese fishing vessels are watching closely to see how the government responds, he added.
Only when Taiwanese fishing vessel owners adhere to “international human rights, labor and environmental standards” can conditions improve for migrant fishers in the DWF industry, he said.
First on the group’s list of demands is that all fishers in the nation be protected under the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法), from which foreign laborers are excluded.
Including them in the act would entitle them to the same rights and protection as Taiwanese fishers, the coalition said.
The hiring and management of migrant fishers is currently governed by a separate law, and they are under the purview of the Fisheries Agency, which does not specialize in labor issues, instead of the Ministry of Labor, it said.
Human rights groups and advocates for migrants have also accused the government of only focusing on the interests of Taiwanese fishing boat owners and the fishing industry, which is one of the biggest in the world in terms of number of vessels operating in distant seas, the tens of thousands of migrant workers it employs, and the amount of catch.
The coalition also urged the government to ratify the Work in Fishing Convention, which has a set of standards for work agreements, rest periods and living conditions on board that the vessels that should be provided to fishers.
Other demands include increasing the frequency and reliability of inspections of fishing vessels, as well as abolishing the practice of allowing Taiwanese boats to register in other countries that have looser labor laws, a practice known as flying flags of convenience.
The coalition called for increased transparency by having 100 percent observer coverage on DWF vessels, either through using electronic catch monitoring cameras and sensors or having a specialist on board.
The observer’s job is to monitor whether there are contraventions of working conditions or the quantity and types of fish caught on the vessel.
Currently, only 10 percent of Taiwanese DWF vessels have observers on board, according to the statement.
The list of demands have been sent to the Executive Yuan, the ministry and the Fisheries Agency, the coalition said.
It has also been sent to the US Department of Labor, which welcomed the recommendations and said it would use them in future engagements with the Taiwanese government, the coalition said.
In response to the coalition’s demands, Hsieh Chien-chien (謝倩蒨), director-general of the ministry’s Department of Labor Standards and Equal Employment, said the management of migrant fishers was the responsibility of the Fisheries Agency.
The agency said in a statement that it has continued to discuss these topics with related groups, and would increase checks to ensure that migrant fishers’ salaries are paid without illegal deductions, and that improvements are made to working hours and living conditions.
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