Control Yuan to review handling of forced labor allegations

08/08/2020 08:13 PM
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CNA file photo of a distant-fishing vessel.
CNA file photo of a distant-fishing vessel.

Taipei, Aug. 8 (CNA) Two members of the Control Yuan on Friday said they will investigate government agencies for alleged leniency toward two Taiwanese-owned fishing boats accused of engaging in forced labor practices against migrant fishermen.

In a press release, Control Yuan members Wang Mei-yu (王美玉) and Wang Yu-ling (王幼玲) said the investigation stems from a report published last December by Greenpeace Southeast Asia, which described the alleged use of forced labor, including excessive overtime, physical abuse and withholding of wages, against migrant fishermen on board several distant-water fishing vessels, of which two are Taiwanese-owned.

Titled "Seabound: The Journey to Modern Slavery on the High Seas," the report took testimonials from several former Indonesian crew members on Da Wang (大旺) and Chin Chun 12 (金春12號), in which they described the inhumane working conditions on board the Taiwanese boats.

In their interviews, the fishermen also alleged that their work hours were different from those specified in their employment contracts and that their wages were not paid as agreed.

According to the report, Da Wang is owned by Taiwan-based Yong Feng Fishery Co., while Chin Chun 12 is owned by Sheng Sheng Fishery Co.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace Southeast Asia noted that it had reached out to the companies or individuals associated with the fishing vessels named in the complaints, but all denied their crews had been treated inhumanely.

The report subsequently caught the attention of Taiwan's Fisheries Agency (FA), which said on April 9 that it has forwarded the cases to the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors Office to investigate.

In its official statement, FA said it "does not tolerate the occurrence of violence and physical abuse aboard fishing vessels, and in the event any abuse or violence involving human trafficking is reported, the Fisheries Agency of Taiwan will forward such cases to the Prosecutors Office with jurisdiction. If any violation is confirmed, the Fisheries Agency will impose sanctions on the offenders accordingly."

According to a Greenpeace Southeast Asia press release on June 2, the two ships, which fly a flag of convenience (FOC) and are both registered in Vanuatu, were still able to leave Taiwanese ports in May despite the allegations against them.

In the release, Greenpeace also mentioned that three migrant fishermen from the Philippines aboard Da Wang and Chin Chun 12 reached out to the Taiwan-based Foreign Fisher Human Rights Protection Alliance for help after their boats returned to Kaohsiung in April.

They all complained of being treated inhumanely while at sea, echoing the situation described in the Greenpeace report last December.

On Friday, the two members of the Control Yuan, the main watchdog body responsible for the discipline of government agencies and officials, said the situation needs to be investigated to determine whether there is possible leniency on the side of the local agencies involved.

Meanwhile, they stressed that the government needs to come up with a viable solution to the issue of FOC vessels, which are often found to take part in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, as well as forced labor or human trafficking.

The non-profit organization, in its June release, also called on the government to abolish the FOC system to improve Taiwan's fisheries management.

A vessel using a FOC is one that flies the flag of a country other than the country of ownership. The flag state used usually has weaker regulations and looser enforcement of fisheries and labor rules.

(By Chen Chun-hua and Ko Lin)

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