A new investigative film from the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) claims to have uncovered evidence of beatings at gunpoint, bonded labor, dangerous working conditions and squalid living conditions on Taiwanese fishing vessels.
The film shows that although some new rules have been introduced in Taipei, out at sea human rights abuses continue.
EJF interviewed dozens of migrant fishermen who have worked aboard Taiwanese-owned fishing vessels operating both in national waters and across the world. You can see the film at the end of this article.
The fishermen — the majority of who are from Indonesia and the Philippines — reported violence, abuse and threats, squalid conditions and heavy financial deductions for food, travel, medical checks and accommodation. They reported working long hours, in unsafe and inhumane conditions for little or no money.
“The film highlights the shocking levels of human rights abuses, and the need to take urgent action to protect people working in the Taiwanese fishing industry,” said EJF. “The film highlights the need to ratify and implement the International Labour Organisation convention designed to protect the rights of workers in the fishing industry. All countries need to ensure that legislation is in place that secures prosecutions against people involved in human trafficking.”
EJF called on all governments and the private sector to introduce the readily available measures to ensure transparency from “net to plate” that will enable fisheries managers and enforcement officials to ensure fish is caught legally, sustainably and ethically.
Taiwan is a major supplier of seafood, shipping annual exports worth around $2 billion to Europe, the US, Japan, and other major economies.
Many vessels in the Taiwanese distant water fleet do not return to port for months or even years at a time, simply transferring their catch to other boats out at sea.
These long fishing periods allow vessels to exploit marine resources to the maximum, while the extreme isolation on the high seas means that crew are vulnerable to abuse, with no government measures in place to inspect their conditions. Prosecutions for human trafficking in the industry are almost non-existent, said EJF.
Taiwan has been repeatedly criticized over its failure to protect human rights in the fishing industry in the last five Trafficking in Persons reports from the US Department of State. The EU is also set for a fact-finding mission to Taiwan in March, to see what progress has been made in combating illegal fishing practices.