Authorities increased protection efforts, but implementation of monitoring and referral procedures remained insufficient to adequately identify and provide services to forced labor victims among the foreign crewmembers aboard Taiwan-flagged and -owned and Taiwan-flagged, foreign-owned fishing vessels. Officials reportedly continued to be less proactive in identifying victims of forced labor than victims of sex trafficking due to definitional ambiguities in the HTPCA. By law, only NIA officials, police, and prosecutors could formally identify victims, while MOL and the FA and other relevant stakeholders were required to follow 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 and other stakeholders to independently identify victims as well. 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 322 trafficking victims (208 exploited in sex trafficking and 114 in forced labor), of whom they referred 83 to shelters for assistance, compared with 300 identified and 202 referred to shelters in 2019. Of the 322 victims identified, 143 were foreign and 168 were children (compared with 169 and 98, respectively, in 2019); this significant increase in the identification of Taiwanese and child victims was consistent with a reported increase in the commercial sexual exploitation of children during the pandemic. At least 48 of the forced labor victims were migrant women (unreported in 2019). Seventeen of the victims were identified and referred to protection services via Taiwan’s public hotline, and at least 13 were referred by the authorities to shelters run by the Vietnamese Migrant Workers’ Office.
MOL and NIA continued to fund civil society organizations to provide protection services to trafficking victims as outlined under the HTPCA. MOL maintained its annual budget for overall victim protection at 18 million NT ($641,160), and NIA allocated 18 million NT ($641,160) for operation of the two shelters, equaling its 2019 earmark; both ministries may have redirected some of these funds to pandemic-mitigation activities. Shelters generally continued their work unabated by the pandemic in 2020 but assisted fewer victims than in previous years; NGO contacts attributed the marked decrease in shelter referrals to stakeholder ministries’ pandemic-related redirection of resources, rather than to pandemic-related capacity or staffing limitations. 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. 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 foreign trafficking victims in a total of 1,162 instances, including 517 instances of interpretation assistance and nine instances of legal aid (compared with 2,697 instances of service provision, including 1,081 cases of interpretation assistance and 13 instances of legal aid in 2019). NIA administered questionnaires to foreign trafficking victims at the conclusion of all publicly-funded short-term care regarding the quality of food, healthcare, legal and employment assistance, and other such services; in 2020, more than 80 percent of respondents reported having been highly satisfied. MOL subsidized an additional 22 “resettlement facilities” and maintained a separate 24-hour migrant worker hotline, from which the FA reported fielding and investigating 75 complaints from migrant fishermen. Authorities reported not having the jurisdiction to further investigate 27 of these calls because they had originated from crew aboard foreign-flagged fishing vessels; however, they resolved 42 of the remaining cases, leading to the recovery of approximately 870,000 NT ($30,990) in improperly withheld or deducted wages in 2020 (compared with 568,820 NT, or $20,260, in 2019). Six of the cases were under investigation at the end of the reporting period. In previous years, observers noted crewmembers aboard vessels in the DWF may have had difficulties accessing the MOL hotline due to limited awareness of its existence and restrictions on their communication imposed by senior vessel crew. Some migrant fishermen have alleged significant lags in hotline response times, and that hotline staff had relayed expressed complaints directly back to senior vessel crew, thereby exposing callers to potential retaliation. The National Police Agency (NPA) and NIA each ran its own hotline – the latter in 24-hour operation and offering Chinese and English language services. Calls to the three hotline systems resulted in the positive identification of 17 trafficking victims and the initiation of 18 investigations during the reporting period (compared with seven victims identified from at least 30 calls received and investigated in 2019). Civil society contacts continued to call for expansion of formal victim designation authority in order to enhance identification through these and other channels.
Authorities reported granting foreign victims 58 temporary residency extensions and 69 work permits in 2020 (compared with 56 new temporary residence permits, 107 extended temporary residence permits conferred in a previous reporting period, and 57 temporary work permits in 2019). During pandemic-related travel restrictions, authorities granted immigration extensions to foreign victims unable to return to their home countries in order for them to benefit from shelter services and other assistance. Authorities also allowed migrant workers with residence permits that had been expired for less than 90 days to renew these permits and avoid deportation through payment of a fine. However, this relief did not apply to migrant seafarers, many of whom were required to remain on their vessels, face fines if they attempted to come ashore, or transfer to employment on other ships through informal arrangements that may have catalyzed additional trafficking vulnerabilities. NIA officials reportedly worked with shelter organizations to facilitate the repatriation of 17 foreign trafficking victims in 2020, compared with 59 in 2019; authorities attributed this decrease to pandemic-related travel and entry restrictions. NIA also issued alien residence certificates to 13 stateless Tibetans during the reporting period. No Taiwanese individuals exploited in trafficking overseas requested repatriation assistance in 2020 (compared with repatriation assistance for 21 Taiwan victims with work visas and 38 Taiwan victims without work visas in 2019). Authorities encouraged victims to participate in their traffickers’ criminal investigations by allowing them to testify outside of the courtroom or through video equipment. In 2020, the Ministry of Interior issued guidelines instructing front-line officers and judicial officials handling trafficking cases to provide foreign victims or their representatives with all relevant documents, solicit their feedback, and confirm they understood the information provided during the judicial process, among other considerations. 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. District courts concluded four civil suits awarding a total of 7.93 million NT ($282,470) to trafficking victims in 2020 (compared with four out of five civil suits concluded in favor of plaintiffs with compensation orders totaling more than 18.7 million NT, or $666,100, in 2019); two of the cases were under appeal at the end of the reporting period. At year’s end, six Indonesian and Vietnamese migrant workers had requested prosecutors settle with their alleged traffickers out of court; none of the victims had successfully reached settlement or received compensation by the end of the reporting period. According to the aforementioned NIA survey, the most common complaints among foreign trafficking victims at the conclusion of their publicly-funded protection services involved the quality of legal counseling, the lengthy duration of judicial proceedings, and general difficulty in obtaining compensation from their traffickers.
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 in 2018 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 easily able to coerce 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 administrative changes did little to enhance migrant domestic worker protections in implementation; instead, they continued to call for an amendment to bring migrant domestic workers under the broader protections and jurisdictions outlined in Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act, or to adopt and implement new legislation to enhance relevant protections.
Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act did not protect fishing workers hired to work aboard DWF vessels, 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. Observers reported insufficient FA staffing and oversight mechanisms in the DWF were permissive of forced labor and other abuses. In an effort to enhance this oversight, in 2019 authorities agreed to pursue regulatory “harmonization” with the contents of the ILO Work in Fishing Convention (C188); the language required standardized working conditions and benefits and raised the minimum wage for DWF and coastal-offshore migrant fishermen. However, implementation measures remained under consideration at the end of the reporting period for a second year. Proposed amendments to the HTPCA aimed at improving the victim identification process and expanding victim benefits, including by increasing visa validity to trigger eligibility for national health insurance, were also incomplete at the end of the reporting period for a third year. During the reporting period, the FA promulgated new guidelines on victim identification and law enforcement notification procedures for inspections of fishing vessels operating in both the DWF and in domestic waters; these included updated trafficking indicator questionnaires for migrant fishermen and senior vessel crew intended to detect cases of debt-based coercion, restricted freedom of movement, wage irregularities, physical abuse, retention of travel and identity documents, and other such forced labor indicators. They also outlined specific responsibilities among stakeholder agencies for the proper detection and referral of potential trafficking cases to police, MOFA, and/or foreign government counterpart agencies, depending on available evidence. According to NGO observers, some migrant fishermen were hesitant to relay their experiences to FA or Coast Guard interviewers due to fear of reprisal and concerns over personal safety.
Taiwan law provided victims with immunity for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. However, unlike the previous reporting period, there were allegations of victim penalization in 2020. In one illustrative case, a migrant fisherman attempted to file a complaint accusing his employers of forcing him to work overtime without pay. He fell ill, after which authorities annulled his work permit; police then arrested and detained him for alleged immigration violations, screened him without detecting trafficking indicators, and deported him. NGO observers disputed the results of the screening procedure. 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 constrain victims’ access to protective care while leaving them vulnerable to temporary detention, fines, and jail time.