Campaigners demand Taiwan be downgraded in US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report

Mark Godfrey
Seafood Source

A U.S. labor campaign group has called on Taiwan to be downgraded in the U.S. State Department’s upcoming Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report due to claims the country has failed to address abuses in its fishing fleet.

Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) and Greenpeace Taiwan, on behalf of the Seafood Working Group (SWG), are demanding Taiwan be named a Tier 2 country in the annual TIP, set to be published this summer. The State Department describes as the document as the “U.S. government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking.”

Taiwan received a Tier 1 ranking in the 2021 report on the basis that “Taiwan authorities fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” according to the TIP Report, publication of which is a requirement of America’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).

However the SWG wants Taiwan downgraded to Tier 2 “due to the government’s failure to meet the minimum standards as set forth in the TVPA, particularly in [its] …failure to systematically identify trafficking victims; inherent risks of human trafficking in the current employment system for migrant workers; failure to regulate recruitment agencies and practices; an impractical human trafficking law that prevents prosecution; and limited and ineffective partnerships with local and international NGOs.”

Over the past year, Taiwan has taken steps to improve labor standards in its fishing industry. In June 2021, Taiwan amended its own regulations to ban any foreign-flagged vessel whose owners are involved in labor abuses or human trafficking from entering its ports, though the government did not clarify how it would detect or adjudicate such transgressions. The Taiwan Tuna Association announced in November 2021 it will be adopting CCTV and blockchain in an effort to stamp out labor abuses.

Most of the countries surveyed for the TIP are listed either in Tier 1 or Tier 2, but Tier 3 countries include China, Iran, and Russia. A downgrade to Tier 2 would carry political implications, given Taiwan is one of the closest allies of the U.S. in Asia and has been keen to cast itself as a champion of human rights compared to China. However, last year, both China and Taiwan were listed by the U.S. Department of Labor in its annual report on commodities associated with forced labor, claiming the majority of workers onboard their distant-water fishing vessels are migrants who are frequently subject to abuse that sometimes rises to the level of human rights violations.

In 2021, Ireland was placed on the Tier 2 Watchlist – others on the list include Vietnam, Belarus, Burundi, and Papua New Guinea – citing the country’s problems with undocumented workers in Ireland’s fishing industry becoming vulnerable to human trafficking.