2021 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, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on their anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Taiwan remained on Tier 1. These efforts included investigating and sentencing more traffickers to significant prison terms. Authorities identified the highest number of victims in three years, with increased identification of children and domestic victims. In addition, authorities continued to enhance victim identification protocols and labor inspection resources in the vulnerable maritime industries and recovered more illegally withheld wages from abusive fishing vessel operators than in 2019. Although Taiwan met the minimum standards and individual agencies established and disseminated improved victim identification methodologies, some official stakeholders continued to operate under disparate and often ineffective victim identification procedures, complicating some victims’ access to justice and protective care. Authorities’ insufficient staffing and inspection protocols continued to impede efforts to identify, investigate, and prosecute forced labor on fishing vessels in Taiwan’s highly vulnerable Distant Water Fleet (DWF). Taiwan authorities’ lack of specific labor laws ensuring the rights of migrant domestic caregivers left thousands vulnerable to exploitation in forced labor.
- Increase inspections and, where appropriate, prosecute the senior crew and owners of Taiwan-owned and -flagged as well as Taiwan-owned, foreign-flagged fishing vessels suspected of forced labor in the DWF, including vessels stopping in special foreign docking zones.
- Implement port entry restrictions for Taiwan-flagged, foreign-owned fishing vessels whose operators have a trafficking criminal record or have otherwise been implicated in trafficking crimes overseas.
- Increase efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers under the anti-trafficking law, and sentence convicted traffickers to adequate penalties, which should include significant prison terms.
- Enact and implement policies to expedite maritime forced labor investigations and reduce suspect flight.
- Expand the mandate of foreign port-based Fisheries Agency (FA) personnel to include detection of forced labor indicators, and train all maritime inspection authorities on victim identification, referral, and law enforcement notification procedures. • Conduct comprehensive, victim-centered interviews to screen foreign fishing crewmembers for forced labor indicators during portside and at-sea vessel inspections.
- Formally include civil society input into the labor broker evaluation process.
- Amend relevant policies and legislative loopholes to eliminate the imposition of all recruitment and service fees and deposits on workers, and by coordinating with sending countries to facilitate direct hiring.
- Strengthen oversight of all foreign worker recruitment and placement agencies and processes to screen for abuse indicators, including illegal fee requirements and contract discrepancies.
- Continue to strengthen efforts to screen for trafficking among vulnerable populations, including foreign students recruited to for-profit universities; individuals returned to Taiwan in connection with alleged overseas criminal activity; and foreign workers falling out of visa status within Taiwan after fleeing abusive working conditions and/or surrendering to immigration authorities, and refer them to protective services.
- Increase transparency of the fishing vessel monitoring system, including by publishing information on vessel ownership and operating locations.
- Clearly define roles and responsibilities for, and increase coordination between, the agencies that oversee Taiwan-owned and -flagged as well as Taiwan-owned, foreign-flagged fishing vessels.
- Enact legislation that would address gaps in basic labor protections for household caregivers and domestic workers.
- Enact a full ban on the retention of migrant workers’ identity and travel documentation.
- Extend trafficking victim identification authority to key stakeholder agencies.
- Increase resources for and implement anti-trafficking training for police, prosecutors, and judges.
- Strengthen efforts to publicize the foreign worker trafficking hotline number among migrant crewmembers of Taiwan-owned and -flagged fishing vessels and train hotline personnel on victim-centered approaches.
Taiwan authorities increased law enforcement efforts, but they did not commit adequate resources to or sufficiently prioritize the detection, investigation, or prosecution of forced labor crimes in the coastal-offshore or DWF fishing industries. The Human Trafficking Prevention and Control Act (HTPCA) criminalized all forms of trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment and fines of up to 5 million New Taiwan Dollars (NT) ($178,100); 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 complicated implementation in cases where victims received some financial compensation. Other HTPCA provisions protected workers from having to remit “unreasonable payments of debt” to brokers or supervisors; observers expressed concern that these provisions were too vague to effectively prevent debt-based coercion. HTPCA amendments enacted in 2018 increased penalties to a maximum of one year in prison and a possible fine of 300,000 NT ($10,690) 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 ($53,430) 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.” In 2019, authorities formed an interagency working group to seek civil society input for revising the HTPCA; in December, authorities submitted draft amendments to the Executive Yuan, where they remained pending at the end of the reporting period. 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 prosecuted and convicted some traffickers under criminal code provisions proscribing crimes outside the standard definition of trafficking, such as Article 231 (forced sexual intercourse or obscene acts), Article 296 (“trading or mortgaging of humans”), and Article 302 (false imprisonment), some of which carried lesser penalties.
Authorities reported arresting 458 individuals on suspicion of trafficking crimes in 2020 (unreported in 2019), culminating in 159 new criminal trafficking investigations—29 cases of alleged labor trafficking and 130 cases of alleged sex trafficking—completed and referred to prosecutors for additional processing, compared with 143 total investigations in 2019. Ten investigations initiated in 2019, including eight sex trafficking cases and two forced labor cases, were also concluded and transferred to prosecutors; these were ongoing at the end of the reporting period. Authorities newly prosecuted 116 individuals under a total of 120 trafficking charges—25 forced labor charges and 95 sex trafficking charges—compared with 122 total in 2019. This figure included 58 individuals indicted under the CYSEPA, 15 under the HTPCA, and 43 under other laws and sections of the criminal code (compared with 48 under CYSEPA, 23 under HTPCA, and 43 under other laws in 2019). The 15 individuals indicted under HTPCA included eight charged with sex trafficking and seven charged with labor trafficking (nine and 14, respectively, in 2019). Authorities convicted 50 traffickers; this included four individuals convicted for forced labor, 45 convicted for sex trafficking, and one convicted for both forced labor and sex trafficking (compared with seven for forced labor and 43 for sex trafficking in 2019). In prior years, 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, for the third consecutive year, sentences imposed on the majority of convicted traffickers (at least 43, compared with at least 27 in 2019) were greater than one year imprisonment. As in prior years, law enforcement bodies and court authorities maintained disparate statistical records on anti-trafficking cases; as such, the true number of trafficking indictments, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences—including those processed through appeals in multiple court systems—may have been higher than reported.
Although pandemic-related restrictions on large gatherings curtailed some training activities, authorities allocated 1 million NT ($35,620) to train more than 3,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges through a wide range of virtual workshops, seminars, and conferences (compared with more than 3,500 officials trained at an estimated cost of 7.85 million NT ($279,620) in 2019). Nonetheless, authorities and NGOs noted court personnel perceiving cases as labor disputes rather than trafficking crimes continued to hinder effective prosecution of labor trafficking cases. In previous years, labor rights groups alleged some low-level corruption among local government officials impeded action against forced labor in the fishing industry, although no such allegations were reported in 2020. Authorities did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of officials complicit in human trafficking offenses. However, the National Immigration Agency (NIA) did identify and refer to prosecutors a Taiwan-based foreign government official suspected of colluding with her Taiwan citizen spouse to recruit three foreign nationals for sex trafficking in Taiwan; the case was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. Despite coordination obstacles to international law enforcement due to Taiwan’s unique diplomatic status, authorities continued to conduct joint anti-trafficking investigations with several countries, including Kosovo, Montenegro, Paraguay, Serbia, and Vietnam. 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 reported one Taiwanese individual was investigated in Japan for child sexual exploitation; case details were insufficient to determine whether Taiwan cooperated on the case, or whether the relevant crime included genuine trafficking elements as established in international law. Taiwan authorities investigated eight foreign nationals—three from Vietnam and one each from South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and South Africa—for suspected CYSEPA violations, but they did not report whether these constituted child sex tourism crimes or other forms of exploitation proscribed under CYSEPA.
Authorities reported 2,617 inspections of recruitment brokers in 2020 (compared with 2,813 in 2019); authorities ascribed this decrease—the first in five years—in part to pandemic-related challenges. They did not report any criminal investigations, prosecutions, convictions, or incarcerations of brokers engaged in illegal acts contributing to trafficking as a result of these inspections. Separately, in December the Taichung District Prosecutor did initiate proceedings under the HTPCA against an individual affiliated with a licensed recruitment broker for allegedly using shell manufacturing companies to fraudulently hire migrant workers for informal, unlawfully low-wage positions in the construction sector. Also in December, authorities charged another licensed brokerage agency in Yilan under the HTPCA for falsely reporting migrant fishermen as “missing,” and for registering others under falsified employment rosters to facilitate their work in separate positions in the informal economy. The FA reported conducting random inspections on 124 fishing vessels, including 102 at domestic ports, 20 at foreign ports, and two on the high seas, interviewing a total of 658 crewmembers (compared with 199 inspections—82 at domestic ports, 74 at foreign ports, and 43 on the high seas, interviewing a total of 720 crew—in 2019). Inspectors uncovered 141 violations relating to contract issues, excessive overtime, and wage discrepancies (88 in 2019); authorities referred eight cases to prosecutors—six involving Taiwan-flagged DWF vessels and two involving Taiwan-owned, foreign-flagged vessels; six remained under investigation, and inspectors did not report whether the referrals were the result of the aforementioned inspections (three referred under the HTPCA in 2019; three in 2018). In previous years, judicial officials noted bureaucratic lags generated by complicated reporting hierarchies also impeded timely law enforcement response in maritime cases, allowing some alleged perpetrators to flee long before the competent authorities could begin formal investigations. In an effort to mitigate these delays, Taiwan’s interagency anti-trafficking task force worked with the FA to complete and promulgate a policy granting police and prosecutors the authority to initiate maritime forced labor investigations immediately upon receipt of complaints, rather than following lengthier bureaucratic approval processes. Civil society groups continued to decry systemic shortcomings in Taiwan’s maritime anti-trafficking law enforcement evidenced by lack of robust investigations into formal complaints filed by NGOs and human rights watchdogs. Only nine of the 32 international ports authorized for use by Taiwan DWF vessels had assigned FA inspectors (an increase from eight in 2019), and observers noted these personnel operated under mandates that were largely limited to detection of environmental abuses, rather than labor abuses. Taiwan’s unique diplomatic status reportedly complicated ongoing Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and FA efforts to continue placing additional personnel in resident FA positions abroad. Division of responsibility for foreign fishermen between Ministry of Labor (MOL) and the FA continued to hinder the coordination necessary to prosecute maritime forced labor cases. The FA attempted to address some of these insufficiencies by promulgating new guidelines on victim identification and law enforcement notification procedures for inspections of fishing vessels operating in both the DWF and in domestic waters. The guidelines also included new instructions to guide FA personnel on how to identify labor conditions that would warrant referral to prosecutors as possible trafficking crimes; authorities did not provide specific information on implementation of these guidelines during the reporting period.
Authorities increased protection efforts, but implementation of monitoring and referral procedures remained insufficient to adequately identify and provide services to forced labor victims among the foreign crewmembers aboard Taiwan-flagged and -owned and Taiwan-flagged, foreign-owned fishing vessels. Officials reportedly continued to be less proactive in identifying victims of forced labor than victims of sex trafficking due to definitional ambiguities in the HTPCA. By law, only NIA officials, police, and prosecutors could formally identify victims, while MOL and the FA and other relevant stakeholders were required to follow notification procedures to report possible victim status. NGOs and prosecutors believed some victims went undetected under this arrangement; as such, they continued to advocate for authorities to allow social workers, labor inspectors and other stakeholders to independently identify victims as well. 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. During the reporting period, they identified 322 trafficking victims (208 exploited in sex trafficking and 114 in forced labor), of whom they referred 83 to shelters for assistance, compared with 300 identified and 202 referred to shelters in 2019. Of the 322 victims identified, 143 were foreign and 168 were children (compared with 169 and 98, respectively, in 2019); this significant increase in the identification of Taiwanese and child victims was consistent with a reported increase in the commercial sexual exploitation of children during the pandemic. At least 48 of the forced labor victims were migrant women (unreported in 2019). Seventeen of the victims were identified and referred to protection services via Taiwan’s public hotline, and at least 13 were referred by the authorities to shelters run by the Vietnamese Migrant Workers’ Office.
MOL and NIA continued to fund civil society organizations to provide protection services to trafficking victims as outlined under the HTPCA. MOL maintained its annual budget for overall victim protection at 18 million NT ($641,160), and NIA allocated 18 million NT ($641,160) for operation of the two shelters, equaling its 2019 earmark; both ministries may have redirected some of these funds to pandemic-mitigation activities. Shelters generally continued their work unabated by the pandemic in 2020 but assisted fewer victims than in previous years; NGO contacts attributed the marked decrease in shelter referrals to stakeholder ministries’ pandemic-related redirection of resources, rather than to pandemic-related capacity or staffing limitations. 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. NIA 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 reported offering these services to foreign trafficking victims in a total of 1,162 instances, including 517 instances of interpretation assistance and nine instances of legal aid (compared with 2,697 instances of service provision, including 1,081 cases of interpretation assistance and 13 instances of legal aid in 2019). NIA administered questionnaires to foreign trafficking victims at the conclusion of all publicly-funded short-term care regarding the quality of food, healthcare, legal and employment assistance, and other such services; in 2020, more than 80 percent of respondents reported having been highly satisfied. MOL subsidized an additional 22 “resettlement facilities” and maintained a separate 24-hour migrant worker hotline, from which the FA reported fielding and investigating 75 complaints from migrant fishermen. Authorities reported not having the jurisdiction to further investigate 27 of these calls because they had originated from crew aboard foreign-flagged fishing vessels; however, they resolved 42 of the remaining cases, leading to the recovery of approximately 870,000 NT ($30,990) in improperly withheld or deducted wages in 2020 (compared with 568,820 NT, or $20,260, in 2019). Six of the cases were under investigation at the end of the reporting period. In previous years, observers noted crewmembers aboard vessels in the DWF may have had difficulties accessing the MOL hotline due to limited awareness of its existence and restrictions on their communication imposed by senior vessel crew. Some migrant fishermen have alleged significant lags in hotline response times, and that hotline staff had relayed expressed complaints directly back to senior vessel crew, thereby exposing callers to potential retaliation. The National Police Agency (NPA) and NIA each ran its own hotline – the latter in 24-hour operation and offering Chinese and English language services. Calls to the three hotline systems resulted in the positive identification of 17 trafficking victims and the initiation of 18 investigations during the reporting period (compared with seven victims identified from at least 30 calls received and investigated in 2019). Civil society contacts continued to call for expansion of formal victim designation authority in order to enhance identification through these and other channels.
Authorities reported granting foreign victims 58 temporary residency extensions and 69 work permits in 2020 (compared with 56 new temporary residence permits, 107 extended temporary residence permits conferred in a previous reporting period, and 57 temporary work permits in 2019). During pandemic-related travel restrictions, authorities granted immigration extensions to foreign victims unable to return to their home countries in order for them to benefit from shelter services and other assistance. Authorities also allowed migrant workers with residence permits that had been expired for less than 90 days to renew these permits and avoid deportation through payment of a fine. However, this relief did not apply to migrant seafarers, many of whom were required to remain on their vessels, face fines if they attempted to come ashore, or transfer to employment on other ships through informal arrangements that may have catalyzed additional trafficking vulnerabilities. NIA officials reportedly worked with shelter organizations to facilitate the repatriation of 17 foreign trafficking victims in 2020, compared with 59 in 2019; authorities attributed this decrease to pandemic-related travel and entry restrictions. NIA also issued alien residence certificates to 13 stateless Tibetans during the reporting period. No Taiwanese individuals exploited in trafficking overseas requested repatriation assistance in 2020 (compared with repatriation assistance for 21 Taiwan victims with work visas and 38 Taiwan victims without work visas in 2019). Authorities encouraged victims to participate in their traffickers’ criminal investigations by allowing them to testify outside of the courtroom or through video equipment. In 2020, the Ministry of Interior issued guidelines instructing front-line officers and judicial officials handling trafficking cases to provide foreign victims or their representatives with all relevant documents, solicit their feedback, and confirm they understood the information provided during the judicial process, among other considerations. Authorities permitted victims to obtain compensation through out-of-court settlements or file civil suits against traffickers but required them to provide all relevant evidence themselves. District courts concluded four civil suits awarding a total of 7.93 million NT ($282,470) to trafficking victims in 2020 (compared with four out of five civil suits concluded in favor of plaintiffs with compensation orders totaling more than 18.7 million NT, or $666,100, in 2019); two of the cases were under appeal at the end of the reporting period. At year’s end, six Indonesian and Vietnamese migrant workers had requested prosecutors settle with their alleged traffickers out of court; none of the victims had successfully reached settlement or received compensation by the end of the reporting period. According to the aforementioned NIA survey, the most common complaints among foreign trafficking victims at the conclusion of their publicly-funded protection services involved the quality of legal counseling, the lengthy duration of judicial proceedings, and general difficulty in obtaining compensation from their traffickers.
NGOs and official stakeholders continued to stress the need for Taiwan to pass a long-stalled domestic worker protection bill that would mandate hours of rest, days off, and annual leave. Amendments to the Employment Services Act that entered into force in 2018 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 passports, work permits, or any identity documents of migrant domestic workers and fishermen without their consent. Civil society groups argued these amendments were insufficient to deter forced labor, as employers were reportedly easily able to coerce migrant workers into “voluntarily” turning over their identity documentation. Lawmakers reported easing respite care regulations in 2018 to encourage employers to grant workers annual leave, ostensibly mitigating a key freedom of movement concern for migrant workers employed as household caregivers. However, NGOs claimed these administrative changes did little to enhance migrant domestic worker protections in implementation; instead, they continued to call for an amendment to bring migrant domestic workers under the broader protections and jurisdictions outlined in Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act, or to adopt and implement new legislation to enhance relevant protections.
Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act did not protect fishing workers hired to work aboard DWF vessels, who instead fell under the jurisdiction of the FA. The FA maintained 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, and that senior vessel crew continued to delay or withhold salary remittance in violation of contractual pay schedules, leaving some foreign fishing workers vulnerable to debt-based coercion. Civil society contacts described the FA’s purview over Taiwan fishermen’s associations—which played a role in the approval of labor recruitment systems—as a possible conflict of interest. Observers reported insufficient FA staffing and oversight mechanisms in the DWF were permissive of forced labor and other abuses. In an effort to enhance this oversight, in 2019 authorities agreed to pursue regulatory “harmonization” with the contents of the ILO Work in Fishing Convention (C188); the language required standardized working conditions and benefits and raised the minimum wage for DWF and coastal-offshore migrant fishermen. However, implementation measures remained under consideration at the end of the reporting period for a second year. Proposed amendments to the HTPCA aimed at improving the victim identification process and expanding victim benefits, including by increasing visa validity to trigger eligibility for national health insurance, were also incomplete at the end of the reporting period for a third year. During the reporting period, the FA promulgated new guidelines on victim identification and law enforcement notification procedures for inspections of fishing vessels operating in both the DWF and in domestic waters; these included updated trafficking indicator questionnaires for migrant fishermen and senior vessel crew intended to detect cases of debt-based coercion, restricted freedom of movement, wage irregularities, physical abuse, retention of travel and identity documents, and other such forced labor indicators. They also outlined specific responsibilities among stakeholder agencies for the proper detection and referral of potential trafficking cases to police, MOFA, and/or foreign government counterpart agencies, depending on available evidence. According to NGO observers, some migrant fishermen were hesitant to relay their experiences to FA or Coast Guard interviewers due to fear of reprisal and concerns over personal safety.
Taiwan law provided victims with immunity for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. However, unlike the previous reporting period, there were allegations of victim penalization in 2020. In one illustrative case, a migrant fisherman attempted to file a complaint accusing his employers of forcing him to work overtime without pay. He fell ill, after which authorities annulled his work permit; police then arrested and detained him for alleged immigration violations, screened him without detecting trafficking indicators, and deported him. NGO observers disputed the results of the screening procedure. Civil society contacts reported limited or inconsistent understanding of trafficking among front-line law enforcement officers and judges, compounded by high turnover impacting institutional memory, continued to constrain victims’ access to protective care while leaving them vulnerable to temporary detention, fines, and jail time.
Authorities maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. In January 2021, Taiwan approved a new “2021-2022 Anti-Exploitation Action plan” outlining prevention of sex trafficking and forced labor among key vulnerable groups. A cabinet-level minister-without-portfolio continued to implement the national action plan and oversee an interagency working group that met semiannually. The working group maintained 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. Due to pandemic-related restrictions on public gatherings, many publicly-funded anti-trafficking information and education campaigns were held via videoconference; this reportedly enabled more than two million people to receive information through such awareness-raising activities in 2020. 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. During the reporting period, MOL announced new regulations to impose fines between 60,000 NT and 300,000 NT (between $2,137 and $10,686) for employers who illegally dock migrant workers’ pay; authorities did not report implementing this new policy in 2020. 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. It also initiated a pilot program to provide free satellite-based wireless internet for crew aboard fishing vessels to facilitate contact with family members and channels for communication of labor and safety grievances. In 2020, FA personnel conducted inspections of 102 DWF vessels moored in Taiwanese ports and interviewed 560 migrant fishermen—an increase compared to 468 interviews on 82 vessels in domestic ports in 2019—and detected a total of 120 cases of unauthorized employment of foreign crew, 18 contract violations, and three “illicit acts” by labor brokers, for which the FA reportedly imposed a total of 18 million NT ($641,160) in fines. It conducted an additional 20 random inspections of fishing vessels at foreign ports and two on the high seas, interviewing a total of approximately 98 foreign crewmembers (compared with 74 at foreign ports and 43 on the high seas, interviewing approximately 252 crewmembers, in 2019). The authorities required vessel owners or brokers to record videos of mandatory discussions informing all foreign crewmembers of their basic rights prior to signing employment contracts; FA randomly selected 82 such video recordings from 16 brokers during the reporting period to screen for compliance with these required discussions and proof of employee consent. Authorities reported a 96 percent compliance rate from this audit but did not provide information on the circumstances of, or consequences for, the four percent of cases in violation.
Regulations promulgated in 2017 ostensibly aimed at better protecting foreign fishermen contained provisions allowing brokers to charge unlimited fees for recruitment and unspecified “reasonable service items,” which likely perpetuated debt-based coercion. During the reporting period, authorities amended the Regulations on the Approval of Investment in or the Operation of Foreign Flag Fishing Vessels to revoke or deny licensure to Taiwanese individuals who owned foreign-flagged fishing vessels engaged in forced labor; they did not provide information on the implementation of this amendment. Authorities also required all Taiwan-flagged DWF vessels to have an International Maritime Organization identification number or Lloyd’s Register registration number to obtain a DWF operating license, and to log these registration numbers along with their radio callsigns, vessel names, license numbers, authorized fishing areas, and crew lists in a standardized FA database for 24-hour monitoring. However, these regulations did not apply to Taiwan-owned, foreign-flagged vessels. While lauding this as a positive step, many civil society observers stressed that increasing the transparency of the vessel monitoring system—particularly by publishing information on vessel ownership and operating location—would significantly improve anti-trafficking coordination between the authorities and maritime labor NGOs. Civil society groups noted overlapping mandates and procedural gaps between the MOL and the FA continued to hinder effective oversight of labor conditions in the fishing industry. In 2020, the FA sponsored a national university to conduct a field study on labor rights within the DWF. In June 2020, Taiwan’s Control Yuan issued an investigative report on the impact of insufficient migrant labor oversight practices on the October 2019 Nanfang’ao bridge collapse that killed several migrant fishermen and injured others. The report called on the MOL and FA to improve working conditions and ensure employers’ compliance with existing requirements, including on the enrollment of migrant fishermen in mandatory labor insurance that provides for workers’ compensation. NPA and NIA sponsored and conducted internal surveys and evaluations to enhance anti-trafficking law enforcement and interagency work.
In an effort to reduce dependence on recruitment brokers, MOL continued to hold informational sessions to educate members of various industries on direct hiring options. An online Direct Hiring Service Center (DHSC) allowed employers to hire foreign workers without utilizing brokers who may charge illegally excessive fees. In prior years, NGOs noted the DHSC was not used widely enough to significantly reduce brokerage vulnerability; however, in 2020 more than 5,000 employees and 5,800 employers benefitted from the service, demonstrating an annual utilization increase of 14.4 percent and 16.7 percent, respectively. Authorities made permanent a small direct-hire pilot program initiated in 2019 to bring foreign workers into Taiwan’s agricultural sector, but civil society contacts claimed the program was not designed to adequately screen for sending countries’ compliance with recruitment fee elimination or other vulnerabilities. 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 excessive fees. Taiwan maintained a broker evaluation system initiated in 2015 that could revoke the business licenses of low-scoring brokerage firms and impose fines for certain violations, including imposition of illegal fees. During the reporting period, the MOL fined one broker for illegal confiscation of migrant worker’s identity documents and 11 brokers for charging illicit recruitment fees (unreported in 2019). The FA also reported using a similar evaluation system to conduct annual reviews of 49 authorized DWF recruitment agencies (43 in 2019), of which it suspended one and revoked the license of another (compared with two suspensions in 2019). In 2020, three DWF recruitment agencies received fines of 1 million NT ($35,620) each (compared with two in 2019; four in 2018; and six in 2017). Civil society observers continued to express concern the evaluation system could not be sufficiently objective or accurate in detecting abuses, including forced labor, because the authorities provided brokers with advance notification prior to inspections. Human rights NGOs claimed the system would be more effective with unannounced inspections, and if the authorities granted NGOs a role in the formal approval and licensure review process.
Despite Taiwan’s unique diplomatic status, it maintained bilateral trafficking memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with 22 foreign countries; this included a new MOU with the Philippines on immigration affairs and trafficking prevention signed during the reporting period. Among these agreements, some did not outline adequate screening for forced labor aboard Taiwan-owned and –flagged or Taiwan-owned, foreign-flagged fishing vessels docking at certain designated foreign vessel harbor areas. Authorities made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, including through Tourism Bureau awareness campaigns and industry training sessions.
As reported over the last five years, human traffickers subject foreign men and women to forced labor and sex trafficking in Taiwan, and they subject local men and women to forced labor and local women and children to sex trafficking. Traffickers also subject Taiwanese people to forced labor in some European countries. Taiwan women and children are subjected to domestic sex trafficking, including as part of an increasing trend in which traffickers induce and exploit Taiwan and foreign women’s and children’s drug addictions. 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. Taiwan traffickers also exploit persons with disabilities in sex trafficking.
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. Indonesian, Vietnamese, and Thai nationals continue to represent the majority of foreign sex trafficking and forced labor victims in Taiwan. Taiwan is host to approximately 714,000 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 (34 percent), or in farming, manufacturing, meat processing, construction, and fishing. In order to pay brokers’ often exorbitantly high recruitment fees and deposits, 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 and guarantee deposit repayments are garnished from their wages, many foreign workers in Taiwan earn significantly less than the minimum wage. Foreign workers who leave their contracted positions—nearly 50,000 at any given time—are at particularly high risk of trafficking because they lose their immigration status and access to formal sector employment; some of them initially flee 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. One NGO survey found that 90 percent of all migrant domestic caregivers have their travel and identity documents withheld by their employers, constituting a significant freedom of movement concern. 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 relaxed visa requirements under Taiwan’s “New Southbound Policy” to lure Southeast Asian students and tourists to Taiwan and subject them to forced labor and sex trafficking. According to NGOs, more than 200 for-profit universities in Taiwan aggressively recruit foreign students—particularly Indonesians—and subsequently place them into exploitative labor conditions under the pretense of educational opportunities. These students are often unaware of the work component prior to arrival and reportedly experience contract switching, excessive working hours, and poor living conditions contrary to their original agreements. University students from Sri Lanka and Eswatini who traveled to Taiwan under similarly deceptive circumstances have been subjected to coerced labor with extremely harsh working conditions in slaughterhouses and meat processing factories.
Documented and undocumented Chinese, Indonesian, Filipino, and Vietnamese fishermen working on Taiwan-owned and -flagged and Taiwan-owned, foreign-flagged fishing vessels experience non- or under-payment of wages, long working hours, physical abuse, lack of food or medical care, denial of sleep and substandard safety equipment, and poor living conditions while indebted to complex, multinational brokerage networks through the continued imposition of recruitment fees and deposits. Migrant fishermen have reported senior crewmembers employ such coercive tactics as threats of physical violence, beatings, withholding of food and water, retention of identity documents, wage deductions, and non-contractual compulsory sharing of vessel operational costs to retain their labor. These abuses are particularly prevalent in Taiwan’s DWF, comprising 1,140 Taiwan-owned and -flagged fishing vessels, as well as on 230 Taiwan-owned, foreign-flagged fishing vessels operating thousands of miles from Taiwan and without adequate oversight. According to FA estimates, approximately 8,000 Filipinos and more than 20,000 Indonesians work onboard DWF vessels. 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. Owners or operators can easily change their fishing vessel’s names and nationality of registry to evade detection by law enforcement. Some migrant fishermen subjected to forced labor onboard international fishing vessels transit Taiwan ports, especially Kaohsiung, en route to other maritime locations. Men and women from Taiwan engaged in telephone scams overseas reportedly present indicators of trafficking.
This Official Text is also available on the AIT website at https://www.ait.org.tw/category/speeches/ .