Taiwan's fishing industry still flouting human rights

New paper exposes unsanitary conditions, excessive overtime, and illegal pay deductions

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Photo courtesy of Human Rights At Sea (Mina Chiang)

Photo courtesy of Human Rights At Sea (Mina Chiang)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A new paper has been published this week detailing the human rights abuses of workers on board Taiwanese coastal and deep water fishing industry vessels.

The 20-page Human Rights At Sea paper, titled "Awareness and Application of Human Rights in Taiwan's Fishing Industry," reports that crew members on commercial Taiwanese fishing vessels are being forced to work overtime in unsanitary conditions, starved, being left in the ocean after they've fallen overboard and having their salaries illegally deducted.

Supported by harrowing first-hand visual evidence obtained through field research in August 2019, the report by Mina Chiang aims to provide up-to-date information on key maritime-focused human rights issues in Taiwan. Despite current efforts to curb abuse to reflect international human rights and fisheries standards, the study covers the ongoing problematic roles of recruitment agencies and Taiwan's Fishery Agency in running the Overseas Employment Scheme beyond the normal Labor Protection Law.

According to the paper, despite senior crew members being predominantly Taiwanese, the multi-billion dollar Taiwanese fishing industry primarily consists of fishermen from Southeast Asian countries. The latter enjoy less human rights oversight and fewer protections compared with their Taiwanese colleagues.

Conditions on board a Taiwanese fishing vessel. (Photo: Human Rights At Sea)

The report adds that as of July 2019, there were 12,233 foreign fishermen in Taiwan's domestic employment scheme, mostly working in the coastal and offshore fishing sectors. Among them, 73.9 percent were from Indonesia, while 13.9 percent were from the Philippines and 11.9 percent were from Vietnam.

The paper commends the "current and positive Government engagement" in protecting human rights in the fisheries sector, adding that Taiwanese authorities have outperformed other Asian countries by achieving seven out of ten regulatory measurements set by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF).


Maritime worker sleeps in hammock on board fishing vessel. (Photo: Human Rights At Sea)

Finally, the paper offers recommendations to the Taiwanese Fishing Authority, including:

  • Abolishing the Overseas Employment Scheme so that all migrant fishermen are protected by Taiwanese Labor Law
  • Learning from other countries' experiences to extend human rights protections at sea
  • Strengthening existing laws and policies protecting human rights for maritime workers
  • Safeguarding and providing the necessary training for fishermen
  • Returning labor and recruitment agency management from Fisheries Agencies to the Ministry of Labor

The organization has also recommended that Taiwan aim to cultivate the philosophy and state-led approach promoted by Human Rights at Sea within the country's official policy. Representatives from the Human Rights at Sea organization will be in Taiwan to discuss the recent report over the next ten days.