Taiwan fishing industry still source of widespread abuse: Greenpeace

Photo courtesy of Greenpeace
Photo courtesy of Greenpeace

TAIPEI (CNA) — Human rights abuses continue to occur with concerning regularity on Taiwan’s distant water fishing fleets despite the fact the country was removed from the European Union’s illegal fishery watch last June, non-governmental environmental organization Greenpeace East Asia said Thursday.

Moreover, as one of the seafood traders involved is a major global tuna supplier, it is feared that products tainted by illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and forced labor could be reaching the consumer market, Greenpeace said.

“Consumers in the main fish markets have every reason for concern that the seafood they buy may have been caught illegally, mixed with illegal catches or fished by workers subject to poor working conditions and even forced labor,” said Greenpeace campaigner Pearl Chen (陳珮瑜).

Although the Taiwanese government has improved administrative systems to combat IUU under international pressure, Chen said, the organization discovered new evidence during a two-month investigation last summer that both government and corporations are failing to protect migrant fishermen.

Greenpeace said in its report that its members visited a port frequented by Taiwanese vessels and interviewed migrant fishermen, all hired from Indonesia, who worked on fishing vessels flagged or otherwise linked to Taiwan.

It found that working conditions violated six of the 11 International Labour Organization (ILO) indicators of forced labor, including excessive overtime, withholding of wages and confiscation of identity documents.

“We only got to sleep for five hours if and when we caught some fish. If we didn’t catch anything, we just have to keep working, even for 34 hours straight. If it were possible, I’d like to change how much time we have to work and rest, to meet the needs of human bodies. There’s got to be a way to make it more balanced, just like how people who work on land do it,” an anonymous fisherman was cited as saying in the report.

In addition to poor labor conditions, Greenpeace said, it identified two Taiwanese fishing boats it suspected of shark finning and illegal transshipments, adding that both are business partners of Fong Chun Formosa (FCF), which recently acquired U.S. seafood company Bumble Bee.

The group called on FCF, one of the world’s top three tuna traders with strong market links in Japan, the Americas and Europe, to take more proactive action, including enhancing the traceability of the seafood supply chain, and strictly upholding international standards on human rights and labor rights.

Greenpeace said it submitted the report to Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency two weeks ago, and urged it to conduct an investigation.

In response, Fisheries Agency Director-General Chang Chih-sheng (張致盛) said it needs time to verify the evidence provided by Greenpeace.

Fisheries Agency officials said as Greenpeace did not provide the names of the interviewees or their work history on the vessels accused of engaging in forced labor, for instance, it will have to conduct its own thorough investigation and interview all fishermen on those vessels.

The agency stressed that it has handled three forced labor cases over the past few years, and will not tolerate such practices if the accusations are proved to be true.