A report from environmental activist group Greenpeace on crewmember abuse aboard fishing vessels in the Pacific Ocean has pointed blame at Taiwan and the Fong Chun Formosa Fishery Company (FCF), but the company’s president has characterized the accusations as “misleading.”
The Greenpeace report, Misery at Sea, reports on poor labor standards, dire working conditions, and harmful fishing techniques in Taiwan’s distant-water fishing fleet. It also calls out “the continued failure of Taiwanese authorities to effectively sanction human rights abuses,” including the trafficking of Cambodian nationals into Taiwan’s fishing fleet, and apparent deficiencies in Taiwan’s investigation into the death at sea of an Indonesia fisherman on-board a Taiwanese fishing vessel, and the conviction of six fishermen accused of murdering their Chinese captain.
“Conducted over the course of more than a year, our investigations show that Taiwan’s fishery supply chain is still tainted by human rights abuses, despite the law change in early 2017 to protect migrant fishers on Taiwanese vessels,” Greenpeace Global Investigation Lead Yi Chiao Lee said in a press release. “This means there is high probability that tainted seafood is making its way into sushi shops and dinner plates in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. There are no excuses. Taiwan’s seafood industry must now act urgently to eliminate these appalling practices.”
In 2015, Taiwan was given a “yellow card" from the European Commission, warning the country its cooperation in combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing was insufficient. The commission is preparing to review Taiwan’s status in September, after which it will decide whether to lift the warning, continue it, or impose a “red card” or total ban on Taiwanese seafood imports into the European Union.
The Greenpeace report explicitly calls out Kaohsiung, Taiwan-based FCF, one of the largest marine products trading companies in the world, handling more than 520,000 metric tons of tuna annually and operating more than 600 fishing and fishing-related vessels, for its indirect links to human trafficking and potential exploitation and abuse of crewmembers aboard its boats.
In a statement, FCF Fishery President Max Chou called Greenpeace’s work on the report meaningful, but said he was “disappointed that they are implicating FCF in old incidents and cases that have since been in all instances addressed in coordination with the Taiwanese Fisheries Department.”
“We realize that as one of the world’s largest marine products integrated supply chain service providers with more than 30 subsidiaries, fishing bases, and shipping agents around the world, we are a prime target for organizations seeking to garner publicity and those not fully aware of the latest development and improvements that are currently taking place in the fishery industry,” Chou said. “However, in their efforts to curb egregious human rights abuses, we believe it is unfair and deceptive to lump our company in with those who condone cruelty and neglect of their laborers.”
Chou said the company has worked over the past five years to implement “a high priority on social responsibility and environmental sustainability.”
“Working closely with our partners, and a global third-party compliance and social accountability firm, we require our associated fleet to formally agree to meet or exceed the standards of our Social Accountability Code of Conduct. Despite considerable challenges related to our supply chains and eclectic providers, FCF is on the forefront of ensuring we meet relevant social responsibility and sustainability standards,” he said. “There is always room for improvement, and even a single case of alleged abuse is too many. FCF remains committed to leading our industry’s social responsibility effort, and to ensuring respect for all fishing laborers. We welcome anyone who has questions about our work approach, partners, policies, or practices to contact us directly, as we have welcomed dialogue with Greenpeace and other stakeholders.
Greenpeace said large, global companies such as FCF bear a heavy responsibility for ensuring the integrity of their seafood supply chains.
“Big traders have a major responsibility to reform if the existing business model, which appears based on human exploitation, is to be ended for good,” Greenpeace concluded in its report.