Greenpeace calls for Taiwan to end forced labor on fishing boats

11/19/2020 09:57 PM
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CNA file photo
CNA file photo

Taipei, Nov. 19 (CNA) Greenpeace and 33 other human rights, environmental and labor organizations from around the world on Thursday called on Taiwan's government to initiate reforms to address the "persistent and systemic issues of forced labor" on Taiwan's distant water fishing (DWF) fleets.

The demand comes as fish caught on Taiwan-registered vessels were classified as products of forced labor for the first time this year by the United States Department of Labor in October.

This is further indication 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," said Greenpeace senior adviser Andy Shen, who added that businesses around the world that source from Taiwanese fishing vessels are watching closely to see how the government in Taiwan responds.

Only when Taiwan's fishing vessel owners adhere to "international human rights, labor and environmental standards" can conditions improve for migrant fishers in the DWF industry, said Shen.

First on the group's list of demands is that all migrant fishermen be protected under Taiwan's Labor Standards Act, which currently excludes them. Being included in the Act will mean they will be entitled to the same rights and protection as Taiwanese fishermen, the coalition said.

Currently, the hiring and management of migrant fishermen is governed through a separate law, and they are under the purview of Taiwan's Fisheries Agency (FA) instead of the Ministry of Labor (MOL).

The agency, however, does not specialize in labor issues, the coalition said. It has also been criticized by human rights groups and advocates for migrants that it mainly looks after the interest of Taiwan's fishing boat owners and 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.

Another demand by the coalition is for Taiwan to ratify the Work in Fishing Convention, which are a set of standards for the work agreements, rest periods and living conditions on board the vessels that should be provided to fishermen.

The convention was set up by a United Nations agency and has been ratified by 18 countries so far, including the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands.

Other demands include increasing the frequency and reliability of inspections for 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 is also calling 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 violations to 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, MOL and FA, the coalition said.

It has also been sent to the U.S. Department of Labor, which welcomed the recommendations and said it would use them in its engagement with Taiwan's government on this matter in the future, according to the coalition.

In response to the coalition's demands, Hsieh Chien-chien (謝倩 蒨), director-general of the MOL's Department of Labor Standards and Equal Employment, said that the management of migrant fishermen was the responsibility of the Fisheries Agency.

The FA said in a statement that it was willing to listen to the recommendations of NGOs and has continued to discuss these topics with related groups.

It said the agency will increase checks on migrant fishermen to ensure that their salaries are paid in full without illegal deductions, and that improvements are made to their working hours and living conditions.

(By Chiang Yi-ching)

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