NGOs call on the Taiwanese government to end abuse of migrant fishers
May 03, 2018

NGOs call on the Taiwanese government to end abuse of migrant fishers

By EJF Staff

The NGO coalition ‘Human Rights for Migrant Fishers’ has called on the Taiwanese government to improve conditions for migrant workers on fishing vessels, who currently face human rights abuses that risk undermining the ‘New South-Bound Policy’.

The Taiwanese government has heavily promoted its New South-Bound Policy which aims to strengthen cultural and economic relationships with Southeast Asia. However, migrant fishers – who hail mainly from the Southeast Asian countries of Indonesia and the Philippines – continue to endure abuse on Taiwanese vessels because of the lack of appropriate laws, transparency and labour inspection measures, says a joint statement issued today by a group of seven NGOs.

The 20th of May is Taiwanese President Tsai’s two-year anniversary and over her term in office her flagship New South-Bound Policy has been a focus for the government. To be true to its aims, however, the government must strengthen protection for migrant fishers and their basic human rights, argues the coalition of Taiwanese and international NGOs.

Because of the remote nature of fishing and the pressures arising from collapsing fish stocks, workers are vulnerable to abuse, and migrant fishers are especially at risk. With a lack of transparency in the fishing sector and no appropriate government measures in place to ensure their rights and inspect conditions, migrant fishers on Taiwanese vessels can and do fall victim to debt-bondage, forced labour, human trafficking and other serious human rights abuses.

Despite the New South-Bound Policy’s aim of achieving a close cultural and economic relationship with the Southeast Asian countries, the Taiwanese government is reluctant to provide migrant fishers with better protection and a safer work environment. To address the situation, the Human Rights for Migrant Fishers coalition strongly recommends the government should:

  • Ratify the International Labour Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention 188.
  • Apply the Labour Standards Actto all the fishers and for the Ministry of Labour to oversee workers in both Taiwanese waters and on distant water fishing vessels.
  • Invest sufficient resources to ensure labour inspections are timely and accurately conducted.
  • Provide training for prosecutors and judges to increase the prosecution and conviction of human traffickers or human right abusers.
  • Develop a complaint channel so fishers can receive help while at sea.
  • Develop a delivery plan with clear timelines to address the above measures.
  • Work with NGOs to review the process regularly.

The most recent US Trafficking in Persons Report raises concerns over protections for overseas fishers, specifically including problems in coordination between the Fisheries Agency and the Ministry of Labour. The Human Rights Report highlighted similar issues.

The Fisheries Agency is responsible for overseeing the recruitment of migrant fishers. However, it has been criticised for lacking the relevant knowledge and experience to deal with the issues. The NGO coalition recommends that the Ministry of Labour should be the authority responsible for all labour affairs, working closely with the Fisheries Agency to ensure it has regular access to vessels in Taiwan and across the world. The coalition will publish detailed recommendations for how the government should amend the law to protect migrant fishers, including:

Information for editors

Members of the NGO coalition:

Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF)

EJFis a UK-based charity working internationally to protect the environment and defend human rights. EJF is a charity registered in England and Wales (1088128).

Watch EJF’s film: Exploitation and Lawlessness: The Dark Side of Taiwan's Fishing Fleet


Greenpeace is an independent, nonprofit, global campaigning organization that uses non-violent, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems and their causes.

The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan Seamen and Fishermen’s Service Center (PCTSFSC)

PCTSFSC is a Christian organisation caring for fishers and providingthem with assistance and support worldwide.

Serve the People Association (SPA)

SPA is a labor rights organization promoting the rights of immigrants, local and migrant workers.

Taiwan International Workers' Association (TIWA)

The main goals of TIWA are to promote cooperation between migrant and local workers, improve the working conditions and social environment for migrant workers in Taiwan, and to increase workers’ rights and benefits.

Taiwan Association for Human Rights(TAHR)

TAHR is an independent non-governmental organization and was founded on 10th December 1984 (International Human Rights Day). It is a member-based NGO and run by full time activists and volunteers. TAHR committed to securing and protecting human rights from all forms of violation.

Yilan Migrant Fishermen Union (YMFU)

YMFU is the only migrant fishers’ union in Taiwan and is securing better working condition for migrant fishers. YMFU assists individual cases for the members as well as advocating for better policy.

Key facts:

  • Taiwan has one of the largest deep water fishing industries in the world. According to the Taiwanese Fishery Agency, in 2016 it caught more than 820,000 tons. The export value of the industry over recent years has ranged between US$1.6 billion to US$2 billion. These products usually land in foreign countries, such as Thailand and Mauritius, and are then transported to local factories for processing before being re-exported to the final consumer markets.
  • Taiwan produces seafood exports worth about US$150 millionto the USA and US$17 million to the EU. Exports to Japan, a major market for the country, reach up to US$475 million.
  • According to data provided by the Fishery Agency and Ministry of Labor, in 2016 there were about 26,000 migrant workers working in the Taiwanese fishing industry. However, the US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 2014 cites estimates of up to 160,000 migrant workers in Taiwan’s deep water fishing industry.
  • The total value of illegal and unreported fishing losses worldwide is estimated at between US$10 billon and US$23.5 billon every year.


Daisy Brickhill - EJF Press & Communications Coordinator Tel: +44 (0)7871946911