Seafood Working Group Recommends U.S. Downgrading Taiwan to ‘Tier 2’ and Thailand to ‘Tier 2 Watchlist’ in the 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report
WASHINGTON, DC (June 5, 2023) – Global Labor Justice - International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF), Greenpeace USA, and allies in the Seafood Working Group (SWG) today announced their findings of labor rights violations, forced labor, and human trafficking of migrant workers in Thailand and Taiwan and called on the U.S. Department of State to downgrade both countries in its 2023 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report in order to hold the governments accountable for these abuses.
“In our submissions, workers and their allies make clear that continuous barriers to migrant workers’ ability to exercise their fundamental labor rights, including discriminatory legal frameworks, short-term guest worker policies, and misconduct by authorities, must be addressed to end exploitation,” said Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, Executive Director of GLJ-ILRF. “We intend that the submissions to the State Department bring workers’ experiences into policy-making spaces in the U.S. and in Thailand and Taiwan. Our experience shows that ensuring workers’ fundamental rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining prevents situations of exploitation that lead to forced labor from occurring in the first place.”
Tefere Gebre, Chief Program Officer for Greenpeace USA, said, “For many years, the Greenpeace network has documented serious issues of human trafficking and forced labor in the Taiwanese distant water fishing industry. While lives are at stake, governments and businesses have not addressed these issues with the urgency and resources they require. The revelations in our submission detail issues happening right now and should deepen concerns about the high-risk nature of the seafood supply chain. We call on the U.S. government to increase its monitoring of seafood imports and strengthen efforts to prevent these harms from occurring in the first place. Companies that source these products must prioritize the safety and wellbeing of workers in their supply chains, and ensure their customers receive products free from forced labor and modern slavery.”
Thailand falls short of minimum standards
The SWG recommends that the U.S. downgrade Thailand to the Tier 2 Watchlist in 2023 as it continues to fall short of the minimum standards the U.S. has set under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) to eliminate forced labor. The Government of Thailand has not provided evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons compared to the previous year, including not adequately adopting the majority of the TIP Office’s Prioritized Recommendations outlined in the 2022 TIP Report.
The Government of Thailand committed in August 2022 to granting migrant workers the legal right to establish labor unions as part of its anti-trafficking efforts, but it has not fulfilled its promise. The government also adopted anti-trafficking measures intended to strengthen the identification of survivors of forced labor, but has not effectively implemented these new policies on the ground. The Thailand submission documents 17 cases of potential forced labor, including cases in which workers are unable to resign due to document retention, withholding of wages, physical violence, debt bondage, or death threats.
“The Thai government needs to ensure migrant workers are paid adequate wages, do not have to pay high fees to brokers, and are not harassed by authorities, as we need decent jobs here because it is not safe to return to Myanmar,” said a female seafood processing worker and member of the Migrant Workers’ Rights Network (MWRN) in Thailand.
“After progressive parties won most of the votes in Thailand’s recent general election, we are hopeful a future government will implement policies to protect migrant workers’ rights, particularly rights to unionization for all workers, including migrant workers, said Roisai Wongsuban, Senior Program Advisor at The Freedom Fund.
Taiwan has made insufficient efforts to remain at Tier 1
The SWG also recommends that Taiwan should be downgraded to Tier 2 as it fails to meet the TVPA minimum standards but is making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards. To maintain a Tier 1 ranking, governments need to demonstrate appreciable progress each year in combating trafficking. During the reporting period, the Taiwanese government made efforts to improve the working conditions in its distant water fishing industry, however, these have not been appreciable. The findings of this submission show that Taiwan has not made progress on the majority of the TIP Office’s Prioritized Recommendations from their 2022 Report.
“The government has made some improvements in recent years, such as installing CCTV on vessels, increasing crew salaries, and requiring life jackets. However, migrant fishers still remain totally isolated from the outside world when sailing on the high seas for months. Communication access through Wi-Fi on board is the most powerful thing to protect workers’ rights, prevent forced labor, and maintain the mental health of workers on the high seas,” said Ahmed Mudzakir, Chairman, Indonesian Seafarers’ Gathering Forum (FOSPI).
“The 21st Century Initiative on trade between Taiwan and the U.S. is quickly being developed. To facilitate a successful trade initiative between the U.S. and Taiwan and to prevent any products sourced from Taiwan involving labor exploitation, the Taiwanese government should continue to improve its regulatory practices in advancing the rights of distant water fishers. This means ending the two-tiered employment system, properly regulating the recruitment agencies to implement the ILO’s fair recruitment principles, and ensuring internet access and fishers’ freedom of association rights on the high seas,” said Lennon Ying-Dah Wong, Director of the Dept. of Politics on Migrant Workers, Serve the People Association (SPA).
There have been well-documented cases of labor abuse in the Taiwanese fishing industry. For two years in a row, the U.S. Department of Labor placed Taiwan-caught fish on its list of goods produced by child labor or forced labor. In September 2022, Greenpeace East Asia published the report, Fake My Catch, which documented forced labor indicators on six Taiwan-owned or-flagged fishing vessels supplying to Bumble Bee Seafoods, including excessive overtime and retention of identity documents. Over two-thirds of the surveyed workers reportedly had their wages withheld.
- Rachel Cohen, GLJ-ILRF, racohen78 [at] gmail.com ()
- Tanya Brooks, Greenpeace USA Senior Communications Specialist, P: 703-342-9226, E: tbrooks [at] greenpeace.org ()
Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ – ILRF) is a non-governmental organization that works transnationally to advance policies and laws that protect decent work; to strengthen freedom of association and workers’ ability to advocate for their rights; and to hold corporations accountable for labor rights violations in their supply chains.
Greenpeace USA is part of a global network of independent campaigning organizations that use peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future. Greenpeace USA is committed to transforming the country’s unjust social, environmental, and economic systems from the ground up to address the climate crisis, advance racial justice, and build an economy that puts people first. Learn more at www.greenpeace.org/usa.
The Seafood Working Group (SWG) is a global coalition of human rights, labor and environmental organizations that work together to develop and advocate for effective government policies and industry actions to end the related problems of labor exploitation, illegal fishing and overfishing in the international seafood trade.