Calls grow for more transparency in Taiwan’s seafood sector as Da Wang officers prosecuted

Published on
May 12, 2022
Greenpeace is continuing to criticize Taiwan’s fishing industry after nine people who worked on board the distant-water fishing vessel Da Wang were indicted on charges relating to forced labor and physical abuse.

Greenpeace is continuing to criticize Taiwan’s fishing industry after nine people who worked on board the distant-water fishing vessel Da Wang were indicted on charges relating to forced labor and physical abuse.

The Vanuatu-flagged Da Wang is owned and operated by Kaohsiung, Taiwan-based Yong Feng Fishery. On 22 April, its captain, first mate, and seven other workers onboard were charged by Taiwan’s Kaohsiung District Prosecutors Office for their suspected involvement in the abuse of 20 Indonesian and Filipino workers onboard the Da Wang. Prosecutors have alleged the migrant fishers were beaten and forced to work up to 20 hours a day. The first mate was also involved in an incident in which a migrant fisher was struck on the head, collapsed, and later died.

Additionally, according to the Taipei Times, some of the crew’s clothes were thrown into the ocean despite cold temperatures, and some Muslim workers were forced to eat pork to survive despite it being forbidden by their religion.

In August 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Trade placed a withhold-release order (WRO) on the Da Wang “due to reasonable suspicion of forced labor on the vessel.” The WRO requires detention of seafood harvested by the Da Wang at all U.S. ports of entry. 

Environmental non-governmental organization Greenpeace had previously documented issues onboard the Da Wang in its 2019 report, “Seabound: The Journey to Modern Slavery on the High Seas,” and its 2021 report, “Forced Labour at Sea: The Case of Indonesian Migrant Fishers.” Greenpeace USA Senior Oceans Campaigner J. Park said the Da Wang case has implications for key seafood brands in Western markets, as the vessel has links Taiwanese tuna trading company FCF Co., the owner of Bumble Bee Seafoods, which has stated it is working to eliminate forced labor from its supply chain through the Seafood Task Force, an industry umbrella group.

“The high seas fishing industry uses cost-cutting and illegal fishing tactics, forced labor, and other human rights abuses to stay profitable,” Park said. “This indictment on the nine people who worked on the Da Wang is indicative of a wider problem. U.S. grocery stores and consumer brands like Bumble Bee have a responsibility to ensure their products are free from human rights violations.”

Greenpeace has pursued a multi-year campaign to persuade FCF and the broader Taiwanese tuna industry to make reforms, but Yuton Lee, an oceans campaigner in Greenpeace East Asia’s Taipei office, said not enough has been done.

“We welcome the investigation and law enforcement on the Da Wang and the people involved. But this is just one vessel in a sea of many that are also potentially carrying out horrendous human rights abuse on its workers,” Lee said. “To prevent such tragedy from happening again, Taiwan must amend its related laws and regulations and conduct port inspections on both Taiwanese-owned and -flagged, as well as Taiwanese-owned and flag of convenience vessels. In particular, Taiwan should ensure its laws and regulations are in line with the International Labour Organization’s C-188 convention, set minimum working standards for all fishers, and conduct law-binding labor inspections in its ports.”

Since 2021, Taiwan's tuna industry has begun trialing a video-monitoring system aboard its fishing vessels, with the goal of ending labor abuses, and has adopted a blockchain system to prevent any tampering of its monitoring data. In April 2021, the Taiwan Fisheries Agency said it had “endeavored to improve the protection of the rights and benefits of the crew members through institutional guarantees,” including the amendment of the country’s labor laws to align with ILO C-188 standards.

In June 2021, Taiwan amended its own regulations to ban any foreign-flagged vessel whose owners are involved in labor abuses or human trafficking from entering its ports, though the government did not clarify how it would detect or adjudicate such transgressions.

And on 5 May, Taiwan's Executive Yuan, the executive branch of Taiwan’s government, announced a National Action Plan on Fisheries and Human Rights, in which the government has committed to better protect migrant fishers and strengthen supervision of the country’s fishing vessels.

However, in October 2020, the U.S. Labor Department placed Taiwan on its 2020 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. And Greenpeace is pushing the U.S. government to take further action by downgrading Taiwan in the U.S. State Department’s upcoming Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. Greenpeace’s Lee said Taiwan has not gone far enough in reforming its fishing industry.

“We welcome the 15 actions taken by Taiwan’s fishing industry to improve human rights onboard, but demand for more details including the timeline of each action, the number of participating fishing vessels, and the outcomes as well as the impacts of such actions,” Lee told SeafoodSource.

A statement from several Taiwanese fishery industry bodies provided to SeafoodSource in April 2022 by Tony (Han-Yu) Lin, section chief from Taiwan Deepsea Tuna Longline Boatowners and Exporters Association said criticism from NGOs “will only lead to no progress or advancement in improving fisheries and human rights protection.”

However, Lee said Greenpeace would not stop criticizing Taiwan and its fishing fleet until more-significant reforms had been undertaken.

“We encourage the industry to adapt necessary changes to fulfill the Action Plan and ensure its policies are in compliance with ILO's Work in Fishing Convention (C-188), which unfortunately has not been enforced by Taiwan,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Greenpeace

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