Authorities increased some protection efforts. They identified 302 trafficking victims (191 exploited in sex trafficking and 111 in forced labor), of which 216 were referred to shelters for assistance, compared to 328 identified and 298 referred to shelters in 2017. Of the 302 victims identified, 183 were foreign and 118 were children. Law enforcement authorities 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 dismissed relevant trafficking charges. Observers were concerned that the MOL’s labor broker evaluation system was not sufficiently effective in identifying abuses, including forced labor, because 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. However, during the reporting period, Taiwan enacted an amendment to the Employment Services Act that required employment agencies to report abuses their clients committed against migrant workers—especially foreign household caregivers—or face severe fines. The amendments also banned employers from retaining passports, work permits, or any identity documents of migrant workers without their consent. Lawmakers eased respite care regulations to encourage employers to grant workers annual leave, mitigating a key freedom of movement concern—particularly for migrant workers employed as household caregivers.
The National Immigration Agency (NIA) operated two shelters dedicated to foreign trafficking victims who had not acquired work visas. Citing security concerns, authorities limited shelter access for victims from the People’s Republic of China to NIA shelters, while other nationals could access a wider array of NGO shelter services. The NIA increased its budget for victim protection to 10.75 million NT ($351,450) (10.34 million NT, or $338,040, in 2017). The MOL subsidized an additional 22 shelters and operated a 24-hour hotline that trafficking victims could access; the hotline received 60 calls from potential victims during the reporting period, and all calls were referred to local authorities for further investigation. However, some NGOs expressed concern that some of its personnel were under-responsive to callers and recommended 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, or unable to access it due to restrictions on their communication imposed by senior vessel crew. 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 or access 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 conferred 90 temporary residence permits and 88 temporary work permits to foreign victims (a decrease from 126 and 159, respectively, in 2017). MOL authorities reported providing repatriation assistance to 28 victims in Taiwan on work visas, and the NIA reported providing repatriation assistance to 38 victims without work visas (39 total in 2017). Authorities permitted victims to obtain compensation through out-of-court settlements or file civil suits against traffickers but required them to provide all relevant evidence themselves. One such lawsuit concluded in 2018, culminating in an award to the plaintiff of 400,000 NT ($13,080). Authorities and the Legal Aid Foundation funded by the Judicial Yuan continued to seek restitution for hundreds of Indonesian caregivers subjected to wage withholding by an unscrupulous broker prior to the enactment of the HTPCA in 2008. In the previous reporting period, the Miaoli District Prosecutors’ Office seized the broker’s assets—valued at 180 million NT ($5.9 million)—to be remitted to the victims of the original offense. At year’s end, 205 valid applicants had settled with the accused and received an unspecified amount of compensation.
Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act did not protect fishing workers hired overseas, who instead fell under the jurisdiction of the FA. In 2017, the FA promulgated new regulations 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 debt-based coercion. Some NGOs noted the FA’s purview over Taiwan fishermen’s associations—which typically engaged in labor recruitment—as a possible conflict of interest. Observers reported insufficient FA oversight mechanisms in the DWF were permissive of forced labor and other abuses. In May 2018, South African authorities detained a Taiwan-owned and -flagged vessel under the International Labor Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention (C188)—its first implementation. The ship’s captain had subjected an all-Indonesian crew to a range of severe abuses, including forced labor. A Taiwan FA inspector traveled to South Africa to interview the crewmembers in response to the C188 detention but did so using questionnaires in a language they could not understand, without an interpreter, and in the presence of the abusive captain. The FA inspector filed a report omitting any mention of abuses and returned to Taiwan, enabling the ship to continue operating. Following public outcry, the authorities reversed their assessment and imposed a total of 3.75 million NT ($122,600) in fines on the vessel operator and the recruitment brokers; authorities also suspended the licenses of the vessel operator and captain for a period of five months.
More than 2,300 foreign nationals benefited from the NIA’s new voluntary departure program during the first month of its implementation in 2019; authorities claimed to have carried out standard trafficking victim identification procedures among these individuals, but they did not report identifying or referring any victims to protection services as part of the process. Roughly a third of the 152 Vietnamese travelers who absconded from a tour group after having being lured to Taiwan with false employment opportunities remained at large, and an investigation into the case was ongoing. Authorities confirmed four of these individuals to be trafficking victims and believed at least seven had served as ringleaders; the latter faced a host of pending charges—including trafficking in persons—at the end of the reporting period. Authorities officially barred the remainder of the missing Vietnamese travelers from the voluntary departure program, raising concerns that the decision may have dissuaded additional trafficking victims from coming forward.
Proposed amendments to the HTPCA improving the victim identification process and expanding victim benefits, including by increasing visa validity to trigger eligibility for national health insurance, remained in draft at the end of the reporting period. Although victims could receive immunity for unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit, authorities continued to detain, fine, and jail trafficking victims in some cases, in part due to limited or discrepant understanding of the crime among front-line law enforcement officers and judges. In 2018, authorities detained and initiated criminal investigations into 32 Taiwan individuals formally identified by the Slovenian government as victims of forced criminality in telephone scam operations; they remained in detention at the end of the reporting period. Taiwan authorities rejected their prior victim designation, after district attorneys conducted two interviews during which they reported carrying out standard victim identification procedures.