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 a sharp increase in the number of trafficking prosecutions, leading to more convictions—including of government officials—and the identification and service provision of a significantly higher number of victims than in prior years. Although Taiwan authorities meet the minimum standards, separation of purview between the Ministry of Labor (MOL) and the Fisheries Agency (FA) continued to impede efforts to address forced labor on Taiwan-flagged and -owned fishing vessels in the highly vulnerable distant water fleet (DWF). Authorities at times did not pursue appropriate legal action against Taiwan individuals reported to have subjected migrant workers to forced labor on fishing vessels. Lack of awareness and dissuasive performance evaluation systems in the judiciary continued to drive lenient sentencing for traffickers, and domestic workers and caregivers remained at elevated risk due to a stalled domestic worker protection bill. Certain provisions of Taiwan’s child sexual exploitation laws appeared insufficient to criminalize all forms of the crime.

Increase efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers under the anti-trafficking law and sentence convicted traffickers to sufficiently stringent punishments; increase oversight of and, where appropriate, prosecute the owners of Taiwan-owned and -flagged fishing vessels suspected of forced labor in the distant water fleet; clearly define roles and responsibilities for the agencies that oversee Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels; enact legislation that would address gaps in basic labor protections for household caregivers and domestic workers; improve the effectiveness of anti-trafficking training and increase prosecutors’ and judges’ understanding of trafficking crimes; enhance cross-border efforts to prosecute offenders and identify and protect victims; strengthen efforts to screen for forced labor among individuals returned to Taiwan in connection with alleged overseas criminal activity, and refer victims to protective services accordingly; and strengthen efforts to publicize the foreign worker trafficking hotline number among migrant crewmembers of Taiwan-owned and -flagged fishing vessels.

Authorities increased anti-trafficking 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; 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 bondage effectively. Authorities continued to prosecute the majority of trafficking cases under other laws in the criminal code and the Children and Youth Sexual Exploitation Prevention Act (CYSEPA), which prescribed penalties for child sex trafficking that were not sufficiently stringent or commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape.

Authorities conducted 32 labor trafficking and 93 sex trafficking investigations in 2016—a slight decrease from 134 total investigations in 2016—but initiated a total of 248 prosecutions (compared to 128 in 2016). This figure included 109 individuals tried under the HTPCA (44 in 2016; 30 in 2015), and culminated in 62 convictions (56 in 2016). Authorities convicted eight traffickers under the TIP law (28 in 2016), with the remainder under the CYSEPA and other criminal code provisions. 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. Sentences imposed on the majority of convicted traffickers (at least 31) were less than one year imprisonment, which were inadequate to serve as an effective deterrent to the commission of trafficking crimes. Officials ascribed the tendency to impose lenient penalties to Taiwan’s judicial evaluation and promotion system, which reportedly penalized judges if courts granted convicted traffickers’ appeals to overturn or shorten their sentences.

During the reporting period, authorities concluded separate criminal proceedings begun in 2016 against a prosecutor who engaged in commercial sex with a minor and a city councilor who exploited foreign women in prostitution; courts sentenced them to 22 months and five years imprisonment, respectively. For the second consecutive year, authorities also launched formal trafficking investigations into cases involving fishermen. In one such case, Kaohsiung prosecutors indicted 19 individuals for allegedly subjecting over 80 foreign fishermen to forced labor; the case was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. However, some observers believed authorities were not sufficiently responsive in other cases involving forced labor in the fishing industry. Police cited jurisdictional concerns and lack of evidence in their decision to cease investigation of Taiwan individuals known to have been involved in a high-profile Cambodian labor trafficking case in 2014. Additionally, observers reported that insufficient inspection of fishing vessels in Taiwan’s highly vulnerable DWF likely impeded investigation into cases involving forced labor. Authorities continued to train law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges through various workshops, seminars, and conferences. Nonetheless, authorities and NGOs cited continued challenges in effective prosecution of labor trafficking cases due to court officials perceiving cases as labor disputes rather than trafficking crimes.

Authorities increased protection efforts. They identified 328 trafficking victims (209 exploited in sex trafficking and 119 in forced labor), of which 298 were referred to shelters for assistance, compared to 263 victims identified in 2016 (278 in 2015) and 240 referred to shelters. Law enforcement officials 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 overturned relevant trafficking charges. Observers were concerned that the MOL’s labor broker evaluation system was not sufficiently effective in identifying abuses, including forced labor, due to the fact that 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. The authorities did not take legislative steps to ensure these benefits in 2017, but the MOL convened a task force to begin formulating basic guidelines on domestic worker protections in the interim.

The National Immigration Agency (NIA) operated one shelter dedicated to foreign trafficking victims and continued construction of a second; in prior years, the NIA operated three shelters. Victims from the People’s Republic of China were only eligible for assistance in the NIA shelters, while other nationals could access a wider array of NGO shelter services. Citing lower personnel costs, the NIA slightly decreased its budget for victim protection during the reporting period. The MOL subsidized an additional 20 shelters and operated a 24-hour hotline that trafficking victims could access; however, some NGOs expressed concern that some of its personnel were under-responsive to callers, and as such recommended that 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. 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 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 offered foreign victims temporary residence and work permits, and significantly increased the number of such conferrals (126 and 159, respectively, compared to 92 and 98 in 2016). During the reporting period, authorities provided repatriation assistance to 39 trafficking victims. Victims were able to obtain restitution through out-of-court settlement or file civil suits against traffickers; however, they were required to provide all relevant evidence themselves. Authorities and the Legal Aid Foundation funded by the Judicial Yuan were seeking restitution for hundreds of Indonesian caregivers subjected to wage withholding by an unscrupulous broker prior to the enactment of the HTPCA in 2008. The Miaoli District Prosecutors’ Office seized the broker’s assets—valued at $180 million New Taiwan Dollars ($6.1 million)—to be remitted to the victims of the original offense. Although victims could receive immunity for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, NGOs and media reported authorities continued to detain, fine, and jail potential trafficking victims during the reporting period due in part to disparities between some judges’ prosecutorial metrics and international standards. These individuals included potential trafficking victims who, according to some reports, were coerced into participating in telecom scams and other criminal activities.

Fishing workers hired overseas were not protected by Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act and instead fell under the jurisdiction of the FA, rather than that of the MOL. In 2017, the FA promulgated new legislation 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 exploitation. Although the new legislation also outlined the FA’s plans to hire more staff and increase interagency cooperation, observers reported that the separation of responsibilities between the FA and the MOL continued to impede authorities’ efforts to combat trafficking in the fishing industry writ large, and that a lack of FA oversight mechanisms in the DWF was likely permissive of forced labor and other abuses. The FA also launched a pilot program in 2018 to more effectively evaluate brokers who deal with foreign fishermen hired overseas, but it was unclear to what extent this program was implemented. Some NGOs doubted the capacity and political will of the FA, pointing to its purview over Taiwan fishermen’s associations—which typically engaged in labor recruitment—as a possible conflict of interest.

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. Various agencies continued to fund advertisements, public service announcements, and other materials on human trafficking and held trainings for vulnerable populations, including youth, foreign workers, and fishing sector workers. 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. To address exploitation associated with labor recruitment, a direct hiring service center allowed employers to hire foreign workers directly, instead of utilizing brokers who may charge excessive fees; however, regulations promulgated in 2017 ostensibly aimed at better protecting foreign fishermen appeared to contain provisions allowing brokers to charge unlimited recruitment and service fees, which may have been permissive of bonded labor. 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. In 2017, authorities fined six brokers found to have employed debt bondage-permissive fee structures (six in 2016), and suspended five businesses for similar practices (four in 2016). 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 made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and forced labor and provided anti-trafficking training for diplomatic personnel.

As reported in the last five years, Taiwan is a destination for men and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. To a lesser extent, Taiwan is a source of men and women subjected to forced labor, and of women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Of the 314 victims identified in 2017, 193 were foreign victims and 96 were children. 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 victims’ drug addictions. Many child sex trafficking victims are from economically disadvantaged areas in Taiwan. Women from China and Southeast Asian countries are lured to Taiwan through fraudulent marriages and deceptive employment offers for purposes of sex trafficking. Taiwan traffickers are also increasingly utilizing smartphone apps and the internet to conduct their recruitment activity and to mask their identities from law enforcement. Many trafficking victims are migrant workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and to a lesser extent individuals from China and Cambodia. Taiwan is host to more than 675,000 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, construction, and fishing. To pay brokers’ often exorbitantly high recruitment fees, some foreign workers incur substantial debts, which the brokers or employers then 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 abscond from their contracted positions—over 50,000, by some estimates—are at particularly high risk of trafficking. 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 under continued debt bondage. Documented and undocumented Chinese, Indonesian, Filipino, Vietnamese, and to a lesser extent North Korean 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, and poor living conditions, which are all indicators of trafficking. There have been reports of men and women from Taiwan engaged in illegal business operations overseas that present indicators of human trafficking, including in telecom scams targeting Chinese victims.

U.S. Department of State

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