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.