June 20, 2019
2019 Trafficking in Persons Report – Taiwan
Taiwan: Tier 1
Taiwan authorities fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Authorities continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period; therefore Taiwan remained on Tier 1. These efforts included investigating significantly more traffickers and labor recruitment agencies than in previous years; for the first time, conducting random inspections of fishing vessels on the high seas; repatriating an increased number of foreign victims; and amending legislation to improve protections for migrant workers. Although Taiwan met the minimum standards, separation of purview between the Ministry of Labor (MOL) and the Fisheries Agency (FA), coupled with insufficient inspection protocols, continued to impede efforts to address forced labor on Taiwan-flagged and -owned fishing vessels in the highly vulnerable Distant Water Fleet (DWF). Authorities detained, investigated, and in some cases charged dozens of Taiwan individuals formally designated by a foreign government as victims of forced criminality.
- Increase efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers under the anti-trafficking law.
- Sentence convicted traffickers to adequate penalties, which should include significant prison terms.
- Increase inspections and, where appropriate, prosecute the senior crew and owners of Taiwan-owned and -flagged fishing vessels suspected of forced labor in the Distant Water Fleet.
- Conduct comprehensive, victim-centered interviews to screen foreign fishing crewmembers for forced labor indicators during portside and at-sea vessel inspections, and ensure these interviews take place away from the main vessels, separate from vessel senior crew, and with the assistance of a qualified interpreter.
- Train maritime inspection authorities on victim identification, referral, and law enforcement notification procedures.
- Reduce the incidence of debt-based coercion among migrant workers in Taiwan by amending relevant policies and legislative loopholes to eliminate the imposition of all recruitment and service fees on workers, and by coordinating with sending countries to facilitate direct hiring.
- Strengthen efforts to screen for trafficking among individuals returned to Taiwan in connection with alleged overseas criminal activity, and among foreign workers falling out of visa status within Taiwan after fleeing abusive working conditions and/or surrendering to immigration authorities under the voluntary departure program, and refer them to protective services accordingly.
- Allocate increased resources for and streamline the maritime inspection process by requiring Distant Water Fleet vessels to use standard international maritime call signs, and by registering all Taiwan-owned and -flagged fishing vessel names, licenses, authorized operation areas, and foreign-hired crew manifests in a single, standardized database system.
- Clearly define roles and responsibilities for, and increase coordination between, the agencies that oversee Taiwan-owned and -flagged fishing vessels.
- Enact legislation that would address gaps in basic labor protections for household caregivers and domestic workers.
- Extend trafficking victim identification authority to social workers and labor inspectors.
- Improve the effectiveness of anti-trafficking training for prosecutors and judges.
- Strengthen efforts to publicize the foreign worker trafficking hotline number among migrant crewmembers of Taiwan-owned and -flagged fishing vessels.
Authorities increased some law enforcement efforts. The Human Trafficking Prevention and Control Act (HTPCA) criminalized all forms of trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment and fines up to 5 million New Taiwan Dollars (NT) ($163,460); these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Observers noted ambiguities in HTPCA provisions could have complicated implementation in cases where victims received some financial compensation. Other HTPCA provisions protected laborers from having to remit “unreasonable payments of debt” to brokers or supervisors but did not clarify what would constitute an unreasonable payment of debt; observers expressed concern that these provisions were too vague to prevent debt-based coercion effectively. Amendments to the HTPCA that entered into force in July increased penalties to a maximum of one year in prison and a possible fine of 300,000 NT ($9,810) for individuals who, “through recruitment, seduction, shelter, arrangement, assistance, exploitation, or other means, cause a child to act as a host or hostess in a bar or club or engage in acts associated with tour escort and singing or dancing companion services that involve sexual activities.” The amendment prescribed a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and a possible fine of 1.5 million NT ($49,040) for such crimes committed by means of “violence, coercion, drugs, fraud, hypnosis, or other means violating the free will of the child or youth concerned.” To address some of the aforementioned shortcomings, an interagency working group continued to seek civil society input into additional draft amendments to the HTPCA, and the Judicial Yuan published a series of guidelines including NGO recommendations on sentencing for trafficking cases Authorities continued to prosecute the majority of trafficking cases under other laws in the criminal code and the Child and Youth Sexual Exploitation Prevention Act (CYSEPA); some penalties prescribed for child sex trafficking offenses under these laws were not sufficiently stringent or commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape, although other laws retained appropriate penalties.
Authorities conducted 166 trafficking investigations (54 labor trafficking and 112 sex trafficking) in 2018—an increase from 125 total investigations in 2017—and prosecuted 113 individuals (compared to 248 in 2017 and 128 in 2016). This figure included 53 individuals tried under the CYSEPA, 47 under the HTPCA (109 in 2017; 44 in 2016), and 13 under other sections of the criminal code. The 47 individuals tried under HTPCA included 11 charged with sex trafficking, 36 charged with labor trafficking, and one unspecified. Authorities obtained 50 convictions (62 in 2017). Authorities convicted 11 traffickers under the HTPCA (eight in 2017), including six for sex trafficking, five for labor trafficking, and three for both; they convicted the remainder under the CYSEPA and other criminal code provisions. In one case among the 113 prosecutions, authorities arrested seven individuals suspected of using an official travel visa-simplification program to attract 152 Vietnamese nationals to Taiwan with promises of high-paying jobs. The ringleaders of this enterprise reportedly subjected several women among the group to sex trafficking; others incurred large debts in Vietnam to pay travel fees and were subsequently subjected to debt-based coercion in sex trafficking and forced labor. The Kaohsiung District Prosecutors Office indicted four suspects in the case, including two Vietnamese nationals, on charges ranging from document forgery to violation of the Employment Services Act. The case remained in process at the end of the reporting period.
As in prior years, traffickers convicted under the HTPCA received lighter sentences than defendants convicted under the CYSEPA and other sections of the criminal code. Authorities ascribed the tendency to impose lenient penalties to Taiwan’s judicial evaluation and promotion system, which reportedly penalized judges if courts granted convicted individuals’ appeals to overturn or shorten their sentences. However, in a departure from trends in previous reporting periods, sentences imposed on the majority of convicted traffickers (at least 32) were greater than one year imprisonment. Taiwan’s Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, which entered into force in May 2018, aimed to facilitate cooperation between Taiwan and other countries on cross-border investigations and prosecutions—a longstanding challenge due to the constraints inherent to Taiwan’s unique diplomatic status. Authorities continued to train law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges through a wide range of workshops, seminars, and conferences. Nonetheless, authorities and NGOs noted court personnel perceiving cases as labor disputes rather than trafficking crimes hindered effective prosecution of labor trafficking cases.
Authorities reported 2,827 inspections of recruitment brokers in 2018 (up from 2,701 in 2017, 2,429 in 2016, and 1,822 in 2015). In August, the Yilan District Court sentenced an employment broker to five months’ imprisonment for illegally deducting food and lodging fees from the wages of eight foreign fishermen—the first conviction of its kind. However, civil society groups continued to decry systemic shortcomings in Taiwan’s maritime anti-trafficking law enforcement, exacerbated by DWF ships’ ability to operate without using standard international call signs and by the absence of a single electronic database containing vessel names, licenses, crew manifests, and authorized areas of operation. Division of responsibility for foreign fishermen between the MOL and the FA, together with insufficient oversight in Taiwan’s highly vulnerable DWF, continued to hinder prosecution of trafficking cases involving forced labor aboard Taiwan-flagged and Taiwan-owned fishing vessels. The FA reported conducting random inspections on 139 fishing vessels at domestic ports, foreign ports, and for the first time, on the high seas (unreported in 2017). Inspectors uncovered 120 violations relating to contract issues, excessive overtime, and wage discrepancies; although these inspections detected possible trafficking indicators, authorities only referred one wage violation incident to prosecution and issued administrative warnings for the remaining cases. Despite the reported prevalence of forced labor on Taiwan-flagged and -owned fishing vessels, authorities initiated only three formal trafficking investigations into cases involving fishermen. Civil society contacts reported DWF ships’ lack of internationally recognized registration systems. Court rulings remained pending for the second consecutive year in a case involving 19 individuals indicted in Kaohsiung for allegedly subjecting over 80 foreign fishermen to forced labor.
Authorities increased some protection efforts. They identified 302 trafficking victims (191 exploited in sex trafficking and 111 in forced labor), of which 216 were referred to shelters for assistance, compared to 328 identified and 298 referred to shelters in 2017. Of the 302 victims identified, 183 were foreign and 118 were children. Law enforcement authorities used standardized questions and evaluation forms when interviewing and referring potential trafficking victims, including among foreigners accused of having committed immigration violations. By law, only police and prosecutors could make official victim identifications; believing some victims went undetected under this arrangement, NGOs and prosecutors continued to advocate for authorities to allow social workers and labor inspectors to identify victims as well. NGOs also continued to report cases in which judges disagreed with law enforcement officers’ or prosecutors’ prior identification of victims and therefore dismissed relevant trafficking charges. Observers were concerned that the MOL’s labor broker evaluation system was not sufficiently effective in identifying abuses, including forced labor, because inspections were announced in advance. NGOs continued to stress the need for authorities to pass a long-stalled domestic worker protection bill that would mandate hours of rest, days off, and annual leave. However, during the reporting period, Taiwan enacted an amendment to the Employment Services Act that required employment agencies to report abuses their clients committed against migrant workers—especially foreign household caregivers—or face severe fines. The amendments also banned employers from retaining the passport, work permit, or any identity documents of migrant workers without their consent. Lawmakers eased respite care regulations to encourage employers to grant workers annual leave, mitigating a key freedom of movement concern—particularly for migrant workers employed as household caregivers.
The National Immigration Agency (NIA) operated two shelters dedicated to foreign trafficking victims who had not acquired work visas. Citing security concerns, authorities limited shelter access for victims from the People’s Republic of China to NIA shelters, while other nationals could access a wider array of NGO shelter services. The NIA increased its budget for victim protection to 10.75 million NT ($351,450) (10.34 million NT, or $338,040, in 2017). The MOL subsidized an additional 22 shelters and operated a 24-hour hotline that trafficking victims could access; the hotline received 60 calls from potential victims during the reporting period, and all calls were referred to local authorities for further investigation. However, some NGOs expressed concern that some of its personnel were under-responsive to callers and recommended MOL enhance victim identification and operational training for hotline staff. These groups also noted that migrant crewmembers aboard vessels in the DWF were often unaware of the hotline, or unable to access it due to restrictions on their communication imposed by senior vessel crew. In addition, the NIA ran a 24-hour Chinese-English hotline but did not receive any phone calls during the reporting period, possibly due to similar lack of awareness or access among target beneficiaries. Shelters provided both male and female trafficking victims with medical and psychological services, legal counseling, vocational training, small stipends, language interpretation, and repatriation assistance.
Authorities encouraged victims to participate in their traffickers’ criminal investigations by allowing them to testify outside of the courtroom or through video equipment. Authorities conferred 90 temporary residence permits and 88 temporary work permits to foreign victims (a decrease from 126 and 159, respectively, in 2017). MOL authorities reported providing repatriation assistance to 28 victims in Taiwan on work visas, and the NIA reported providing repatriation assistance to 38 victims without work visas (39 total in 2017). Authorities permitted victims to obtain compensation through out-of-court settlement or file civil suits against traffickers but required them to provide all relevant evidence themselves. One such lawsuit concluded in 2018, culminating in an award to the plaintiff of 400,000 NT ($13,080). Authorities and the Legal Aid Foundation funded by the Judicial Yuan continued to seek restitution for hundreds of Indonesian caregivers subjected to wage withholding by an unscrupulous broker prior to the enactment of the HTPCA in 2008. In the previous reporting period, the Miaoli District Prosecutors’ Office seized the broker’s assets—valued at 180 million NT ($5.9 million)—to be remitted to the victims of the original offense. At year’s end, 205 valid applicants had settled with the accused and received an unspecified amount of compensation.
Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act did not protect fishing workers hired overseas, who instead fell under the jurisdiction of the FA. In 2017, the FA promulgated new regulations that standardized fishing workers’ employment contracts, set a minimum wage with direct payment options, provided medical and life insurance, unified working hours and rest time, and established access to new complaint mechanisms. However, NGOs remained concerned that the minimum compensation established in these regulations remained below Taiwan’s broader minimum wage, leaving some foreign fishing workers vulnerable to debt-based coercion. Some NGOs noted the FA’s purview over Taiwan fishermen’s associations—which typically engaged in labor recruitment—as a possible conflict of interest. Observers reported insufficient FA oversight mechanisms in the DWF were permissive of forced labor and other abuses. In May 2018, South African authorities detained a Taiwan-flagged and -owned vessel under the International
Labor Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention (C188)—its first implementation. The ship’s captain had subjected an all-Indonesian crew to a range of severe abuses, including forced labor. A Taiwan FA inspector traveled to South Africa to interview the crewmembers in response to the C188 detention but did so using questionnaires in a language they could not understand, without an interpreter, and in the presence of the abusive captain. The FA inspector filed a report omitting any mention of abuses and returned to Taiwan, enabling the ship to continue operating. Following public outcry, the authorities reversed their assessment and imposed a total of 3.75 million NT ($122,600) in fines on the vessel operator and the recruitment brokers; authorities also suspended the licenses of the vessel operator and captain for a period of five months.
More than 2,300 foreign nationals benefited from the NIA’s new voluntary departure program during the first month of its implementation in 2019; authorities claimed to have carried out standard trafficking victim identification procedures among these individuals, but they did not report identifying or referring any victims to protection services as part of the process. Roughly a third of the 152 Vietnamese travelers who absconded from a tour group after having being lured to Taiwan with false employment opportunities remained at large, and an investigation into the case was ongoing. Authorities confirmed four of these individuals to be trafficking victims and believed at least seven had served as ringleaders; the latter faced a host of pending charges—including trafficking in persons—at the end of the reporting period. Authorities officially barred the remainder of the missing Vietnamese travelers from the voluntary departure program, raising concerns that the decision may have dissuaded additional trafficking victims from coming forward.
Proposed amendments to the HTPCA improving the victim identification process and expanding victim benefits, including by increasing visa validity to trigger eligibility for national health insurance, remained in draft at the end of the reporting period. Although victims could receive immunity for unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit, authorities continued to detain, fine, and jail trafficking victims in some cases, in part due to limited or discrepant understanding of the crime among front-line law enforcement officers and judges. In 2018, authorities detained and initiated criminal investigations into 32 Taiwan individuals formally identified by the Slovenian government as victims of forced criminality in telephone scam operations; they remained in detention at the end of the reporting period. Taiwan authorities rejected their prior victim designation, after district attorneys conducted two interviews during which they reported carrying out standard victim identification procedures.
Authorities maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. A cabinet-level minister-without-portfolio continued to implement the national plan of action and oversee an interagency working group that met semiannually. NGO contacts expressed concern that the limited frequency of these meetings had a negative impact on progress and coordination on anti-trafficking efforts. To address NGO concerns, authorities divided the working group into two subgroups—one to focus on domestic workers and the other on migrant fishermen—that convened meetings more frequently and included participation from NGOs and academics. Various agencies continued to fund advertisements, public service announcements, and other materials on trafficking and held trainings for vulnerable populations, including youth, foreign workers, and fishing sector workers. The FA distributed multilingual cards containing information on worker rights and hotline numbers to foreign crewmembers during random inspections of ships docking at certain foreign ports. Authorities continued to operate international airport service counters and foreign-worker service stations around Taiwan to assist foreign workers and educate them on their rights. The FA conducted 215 random inspections of fishing vessels—87 in domestic ports, 99 at foreign ports, and 29 on the high seas—employing a total of 798 crewmembers (unreported in 2017). These inspections did not lead to the identification of any cases of forced labor; civil society contacts and families of forced labor victims criticized these efforts as insufficient to prevent the widespread forced labor occurring in the industry.
A direct hiring service center allowed employers to hire foreign workers without utilizing brokers who may charge excessive fees; however, regulations promulgated in 2017 ostensibly aimed at better protecting foreign fishermen contained provisions allowing brokers to charge unlimited recruitment and service fees, which likely perpetuated debt-based coercion. Taiwan maintained a broker evaluation system initiated in 2015 that could revoke the business licenses of low-scoring brokerage firms. However, human rights groups continued to question the efficacy of this system; in April 2018, roughly 300 Vietnamese women accused a brokerage firm of arbitrarily deducting fees from their salaries after having received an excellent evaluation rating from the relevant authorities. Most employers continued to deem it easier and more expedient to use brokers, and labor rights groups continued to call on the authorities to eliminate legal loopholes that enable these excessive fees. Following increased inspections of labor recruitment operations, authorities fined 242 brokers found to have employed high fee structures (six in 2017) and suspended seven businesses for similar practices (five in 2017). Taiwan’s laws criminalized sexual exploitation of children by Taiwan passport holders traveling abroad, but authorities have not investigated or prosecuted any child sex tourism offenses committed abroad since 2006. Authorities have signed MOUs on trafficking prevention with 20 countries, but contacts report Taiwan’s unique diplomatic status limited opportunities for bilateral or multilateral cooperation. Authorities made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and forced labor, including through Tourism Bureau awareness campaigns and industry training sessions.
In part to reduce vulnerability to immigration-based coercion, the NIA launched a program in early 2019 offering reduced penalties to foreign individuals overstaying their visas, including a small fine without detention and a shorter re-entry ban, if they willingly turned themselves in. Over 2,300 foreign nationals benefited from this voluntary departure program during the first month of its implementation in 2019, compared to 900 voluntary surrenders under the previous penalties in early 2018.
As reported in the last five years, human traffickers subject foreign men and women to forced labor and sex trafficking in Taiwan, and traffickers subject local men and women to forced labor and local women and children to sex trafficking. Taiwan women and children are subjected to domestic sex trafficking, including as part of an increasing trend in which traffickers induce and take advantage of Taiwan and foreign women’s and children’s drug addictions to subject them to sex trafficking. Taiwan traffickers increasingly use the internet, smartphone apps, livestreaming, and other such online technologies to conduct recruitment activities, often targeting child victims, and to mask their identities from law enforcement.
Traffickers lure women from China and Southeast Asian countries to Taiwan through fraudulent marriages and deceptive employment offers for purposes of sex trafficking. Many trafficking victims are migrant workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and to a lesser extent, individuals from China, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka. Taiwan is host to more than 700,000 foreign workers, most of whom are hired in their home countries through recruitment agencies and brokers—including some from Taiwan—to perform low-skilled work as home caregivers and domestic workers, or in farming, manufacturing, meat processing, construction, and fishing. To pay brokers’ often exorbitantly high recruitment fees, some foreign workers incur substantial debts, which the brokers or employers use as tools of coercion to obtain or retain their labor. After recruitment fee repayments are garnished from their wages, many foreign workers in Taiwan earn significantly less than the minimum wage. Foreign workers who flee from their contracted positions—more than 50,000, by some estimates—are at particularly high risk of trafficking because they lose their immigration status and access to formal sector employment by absconding from contracted positions; some of them initially fled due to abusive work conditions, including forced labor. Domestic workers and home caregivers are also especially vulnerable to exploitation, since they often live in their employers’ residences, making it difficult to monitor their working and living conditions. Brokers in Taiwan sometimes assist employers in forcibly deporting “problematic” foreign employees should they complain, enabling brokers to fill the empty positions with new foreign workers facing continued debt-based coercion. Some traffickers use Indonesian-owned stores in Taiwan as illegal remittance channels, confining Indonesian workers and subjecting them to sex trafficking. Traffickers reportedly take advantage of Taiwan’s “New Southbound Policy” visa-simplification program to lure Southeast Asian students and tourists to Taiwan and subject them to forced labor and sex trafficking.
Documented and undocumented Chinese, Indonesian, Filipino, and Vietnamese fishermen working on Taiwan-flagged and -owned fishing vessels experience non- or under-payment of wages, long working hours, physical abuse, lack of food or medical care, denial of sleep, and poor living conditions while indebted to complex, multinational brokerage networks. Migrant fishermen have reported senior crewmembers employ such coercive tactics as threats of physical violence, beatings, withholding of food and water, and pay deductions to retain their labor. These abuses are particularly prevalent in Taiwan’s DWF, comprising over 2,000 Taiwan-flagged and -owned fishing vessels operating thousands of miles from Taiwan and without adequate oversight. Senior crew force migrant workers to fish illegal stock, including threatened, endangered, and protected species, placing them at higher risk of criminal repercussions. Many ships remain at sea for years at a time, selectively disabling their transponders and stopping at “refrigeration mother ships” or remote, uninhabited islands to resupply, transfer victims to other ships, and offload illegally caught fish while avoiding detection by law enforcement. Men and women from Taiwan engaged in telephone scams overseas reportedly present indicators of trafficking.