US labor abuse finding spurs Taiwan’s seafood industry, government to further action
Taiwan will soon revoke the “authorization for investment in operation of foreign-flagged fishing vessels” granted to the owner-operator of the Da Wang, a Taiwanese-owned (and Vanuatu-flagged) vessel which was the subject of a recent finding by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that labor abuses took place on board.
On 18 August, 2020, the U.S. CBP, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, issued a withhold release order refusing all seafood caught by the Da Wang at U.S. ports of entry. On 28 January, 2022, the CBP issued a forced labor finding against the Da Wang, citing an investigation that discovered evidence of all 11 of the International Labour Organization’s forced labor indicators on the vessel. The elevated ruling will result in all seafood affiliated with the Da Wang to be confiscated at all U.S. ports.
However, a press release issued by the Taiwan Fisheries Agency issued 9 February said the vessel’s operator, Yong Feng Fishery Ltd., had taken action to address its shortcomings.
“As far as the Fisheries Agency knows, since F/V Da Wang was listed in the WRO two years ago, the operator has been doing all the efforts and possible improvements in the hope that the vessel could be removed from the WRO list," it said.
Tony Lin, a project manager at the Taiwan Tuna Association, the industry body representing Taiwanese tuna industry, said Yong Feng Fishery has submitted new material to the CBP, including the results of an audit performed by Key Traceability Ltd. Company, and it hopes that the WRO will be removed soon.
“A social audit had been conducted by a third party and improvements have been made accordingly to the owner … of Da Wang, [which] has also submitted relevant supporting information to the CBP since last month,” Lin told SeafoodSource. “It is expected that the CBP will issue a new release once it completes the review.”
In a statement sent to SeafoodSource, Taiwan Fisheries Agency Director General Chih-Sheng Chang said his agency “will work with all other countries to support human rights, safeguard labor rights in fisheries, and fight forced labor or human trafficking, regardless of the nationality of the fishing vessel.”
“The relevant regulations on nationals investing in the operation of foreign-flagged fishing vessels have been amended accordingly. With such amendments, the agency will not authorize nationals involving in forced labor or human trafficking to invest in or operate foreign-flagged fishing vessels and will revoke the authorizations that have already granted,” Chang said in a statement to SeafoodSource. “In addition, foreign-flagged fishing vessels whose operators involve in forced labor or human trafficking would be prohibited from entering the ports in Taiwan.”
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. The Taiwan Tuna Association announced in November 2021 it will be adopting CCTV and blockchain in an effort to stamp out labor abuses.
The Da Wang case played a role in that decision, as it has received significant attention, including non-governmental organizations, the Fisheries Agency of Taiwan, and the National Human Rights Commission of Taiwan, Lin acknowledged.
“It is hoped that the case of Da Wang will be the last one and the Taiwan Tuna Association will continue its efforts to assist its member fishing vessels and cooperate with the Fisheries Agency of Taiwan to move towards sustainable fisheries and safeguarding the rights of crews,” Lin said. “Taiwan Tuna Association has been working with its member vessel owners and relevant stakeholders to promote the awareness of forced labor matters and to make improvements through holding workshops, leading [fishery improvement programs], and cooperat[ing] with scholars, NGOs, and relevant government units.”
Several Taiwanese fishing firms have close relations with seafood buyers in the U.S., which is heavily dependent on imported seafood. That includes the operators of two vessels that have also been issued WROs by the U.S. CBP – the Yu Long 2 and the Tunago 61, which are suppliers to FCF Co., which purchased Bumble Bee Foods in January 2020. In total, the CBP has five active WROs against deep-water fishing vessels of Taiwanese origin.
In October 2020, the U.S. Labor Department placed Taiwan on its 2020 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor (no report was issued in 2021).
The Seafood Working Group, comprised of 23 seafood-focused NGOs including the Environmental Justice Foundation, WWF, and Greenpeace USA, last year demanded that Taiwan be downgraded to a Tier 2 Ranking in the U.S. Department of State’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, though the country ultimately retained its Tier 1 position.
In a 11 February statement, Greenpeace USA Senior Oceans Campaigner J.Park called on the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to take additional action to ensure seafood tainted with labor violations does not enter the United States.
“We are profoundly disturbed to learn of the extensive labor violations discovered by the CBP on the Da Wang, and the horrible conditions they imposed on vulnerable fishers. Unfortunately, this situation is not an isolated incident, and many other workers in the distant-water fishing industry are currently suffering through the same experience,” Park said. “Companies like Bumble Bee have a responsibility to ensure their supply chains are free from human rights violations. This finding by the CBP is a step in the right direction to hold them accountable. We are calling on the Biden administration to take action to ensure all seafood that enters the U.S. is fully traceable and from verifiable legal sources.”
Yuton Lee, an oceans campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia’s Taipei Office, praised the Biden administration’s renewed focus on seafood’s labor issues and said it is the Taiwanese government that must do more.
“The U.S. government is doing what the Taiwan government isn’t: cracking down on labor and human rights abuses in Taiwan’s distant-water fishing industry. Whilst small steps have been taken to improve the situation, clearly the Taiwan government is failing to take proactive measures to stop crime and other illegal activities coming from the supply side,” Lee said. “As one of the largest distant-water fishing economies, Taiwan needs to know that by failing to take proper action, it not only hurts vulnerable workers from Southeast Asia who are usually roped onto these vessels, and consumers around the world, but also our own fishing industry and reputation.”
Photo courtesy of Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission