Authorities maintained protection efforts. By law, only police and prosecutors could formally identify victims, while MOL, the FA, the National Immigration Agency (NIA), and other relevant stakeholders were required to follow complex notification procedures to report possible victim status. NGOs and prosecutors believed some victims went undetected under this arrangement; as such, they continued to advocate for authorities to allow social workers, labor inspectors, immigration officials, and other stakeholders to independently 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. 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. During the reporting period, they identified 300 trafficking victims (198 exploited in sex trafficking and 102 in forced labor), of which they referred 202 to shelters for assistance, compared with 302 identified and 216 referred to shelters in 2018. Of the 300 victims identified, 169 were foreign and 98 were children.
NGOs and official stakeholders continued to stress the need for Taiwan to pass a long-stalled domestic worker protection bill that would mandate hours of rest, days off, and annual leave. Amendments to the Employment Services Act that entered into force during the previous reporting period 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 domestic workers and fishermen without their consent. Civil society groups argued these amendments were insufficient to deter forced labor, as employers were reportedly able to threaten migrant workers into “voluntarily” turning over their identity documentation. Lawmakers reported easing respite care regulations in 2018 to encourage employers to grant workers annual leave, ostensibly mitigating a key freedom of movement concern for migrant workers employed as household caregivers. However, NGOs claimed these legislative reforms did little to enhance migrant domestic worker protections in implementation; instead, they called for an amendment to bring migrant domestic workers under the broader protections and jurisdictions outlined in Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act.
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. MOL significantly increased its budget for overall victim protection to 18 million NT ($601,160) in 2019 under Taiwan’s Employment Security Fund (10.75 million NT ($359,030) in 2018 and 10.34 million NT ($345,330) in 2017), of which it used 6.84 million NT ($228,440); NIA also spent 13.52 million NT ($451,540) for operation of the two shelters. NIA 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 reported offering these services to a total of 2,697 foreign individuals, among whom 1,081 received interpretation assistance and 14 received legal aid (unreported in 2018). MOL subsidized an additional 22 “resettlement facilities” and operated a 24-hour hotline that trafficking victims could access; it received two calls related to possible sex trafficking and three related to suspected cases of forced labor (60 total in 2018). Unlike in prior years, MOL reported successfully identifying one forced labor victim through the hotline and referring the individual to protection services. Observers noted that migrant crewmembers aboard vessels in the DWF may have had difficulties accessing hotlines due to limited awareness of their existence and restrictions on their communication imposed by senior vessel crew. NIA also ran a 24-hour Chinese-English hotline, through which it received and investigated nine reports of possible sex trafficking and 11 reports of suspected forced labor; this led to the positive identification and referral of one victim (none in 2018). The National Police Agency also maintained a hotline, through which it reportedly identified and referred five victims of trafficking. Civil society contacts continued to call for expansion of formal victim designation authority in order to enhance identification through these and other channels.
Authorities encouraged victims to participate in their traffickers’ criminal investigations by allowing them to testify outside of the courtroom or through video equipment. During the reporting period, the Judicial Yuan collected feedback from civil society organizations on enhancing victim participation in litigation procedures. This consultative process culminated in amendments to the code of criminal procedure requiring judges to protect the identities of victims and their families, including by separating victims from the accused during trial proceedings. The amendments also newly established that victims, or their representatives, can question defendants, and that they can formally express their opinions on all evidence presented and sentences imposed as part of the litigation process. Authorities conferred 56 temporary residence permits and 57 temporary work permits to foreign victims—a decrease from 90 and 88, respectively in 2018, and 126 and 159, respectively in 2017—but they extended 107 temporary residence permits conferred in a previous reporting period (unreported in 2018). MOL authorities provided repatriation assistance to 21 Taiwan victims overseas under the auspices of work visas, and NIA reported providing repatriation assistance to 38 Taiwan victims without work visas (66 total in 2018; 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. The Legal Aid Foundation, which the Judicial Yuan funded, continued to seek compensation for hundreds of Indonesian caregivers subjected to wage withholding by an unscrupulous broker prior to the enactment of the HTPCA in 2008. At year’s end, 254 valid applicants had settled with the accused and received an unspecified amount of compensation. District courts accepted five additional civil suits related to trafficking, four of which they concluded in favor of the plaintiffs with compensation orders totaling over 18.7 million NT ($624,540).
Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act did not protect fishing workers hired overseas, who instead fell under the jurisdiction of the FA. The FA maintained 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 and that senior vessel crew continued to delay or withhold salary remittance in violation of contractual pay schedules, leaving some foreign fishing workers vulnerable to debt-based coercion. Civil society contacts described the FA’s purview over Taiwan fishermen’s associations—which played a role in the approval of labor recruitment systems—as a possible conflict of interest. Some anti-trafficking activists alleged harassment by fishermen’s associations purported to have close ties with local FA authorities. Observers reported insufficient FA oversight mechanisms in the DWF were permissive of forced labor and other abuses. In an effort to enhance this oversight, authorities passed a resolution outlining legislative “harmonization” with the contents of the International Labor Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention (C188); the new language required standardized working conditions and benefits and raised the minimum wage for DWF and near-water migrant fishermen. However, implementation measures remained under consideration at the end of the reporting period. 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 for a second year.
Taiwan law provided victims with immunity for unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit. Although there were no new allegations of victim penalization in 2019, civil society contacts reported limited or inconsistent understanding of trafficking among front-line law enforcement officers and judges, compounded by high turnover impacting institutional memory, continued to leave victims vulnerable to temporary detention, fines, and jail time. 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. Taiwan authorities rejected their prior victim designation, after district attorneys conducted two interviews during which they reported carrying out standard victim identification procedures. In 2019, authorities began prosecuting the leaders of the scam under the HTPCA. Judicial officials reported initiating prosecutions against all 32 of these workers on the grounds that they had allegedly entered into the scam of their own volition and were subsequently forced to continue the work; however, citing their “simultaneous victim status,” authorities prosecuted them under charges carrying lesser penalties. The cases were in process at the end of the reporting period.