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Greenpeace Investigation Finds Labour Abuses in Fishing Industry

18 April 2016

TAIWAN - A year-long Greenpeace East Asia investigation into Taiwan’s distant water tuna fisheries has exposed illegal shark finning, labor and human rights abuses, as well as Taiwan’s failure to adequately address issues such as murder and drug smuggling at sea.

The findings come as a yellow card warning from the European Commission is about to expire.

Issued on October 1, 2015, Taiwan was given six months to clean up its fisheries or face economic sanction by the EU. Similarly, the 2015 US State Department Trafficking in Person report urged Taiwan to “vigorously investigate and prosecute, using the newly established procedures, the owners of Taiwan-owned or -flagged fishing vessels who allegedly commit abuse and labor trafficking onboard long haul fishing vessels.”

“These investigations paint a comprehensive picture of an industry in crisis,” says Yen Ning, Ocean Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia. “Despite talking the talk, Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency appears incapable of monitoring the out-of-control tuna industry. Whether through lack of capacity or otherwise, our investigations reveal devastating impacts on marine life and people’s lives.”

Taiwan operates one of the world’s largest distant water fishing fleets, exporting over 330,000 tons of tuna per year - a large portion or which ends up on US supermarket shelves. Taiwanese companies, like seafood giant Fong Chun Formosa Fishery Company, Ltd. (FCF), supply some of the world’s largest seafood companies, including Thailand’s troubled Thai Union Group which owns Chicken of the Sea in the U.S. Large amounts of Taiwanese caught tuna are exported to Thailand for processing, where serious labor and human rights violations have recently been exposed. The U.S. is the largest market for canned tuna, importing from Thailand as well as directly from Taiwan.

“The fishing industries of both Taiwan and Thailand have been shown to have human rights problems,” says Yen Ning. “The murky tuna supply chains of companies like Thai Union have little transparency, which means seafood lovers everywhere may be eating tuna tainted
by human exploitation and environmental crime, and they’d never know.”

The Greenpeace report also reveals the abusive treatment of foreign crew. Interviews with South East Asian crew members revealed delayed and withheld payments, along with horrendous working conditions, exploitation by recruiting agents, verbal and serious physical abuse, and death at sea.

These human rights abuses seem to go hand-in-hand with environmental abuses. Fins are not allowed to be separated from shark carcasses under legislation Taiwan passed in 2012, but in a single three-month investigation in just one port in Taiwan, Greenpeace uncovered
16 illegal cases of shark finning. In contrast, an inquiry to Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency showed the same number of cases were recorded over the last 12 months, across all of Taiwan.

“The yellow card should be a wake up call for Taiwan to reform its fisheries, eliminate human exploitation and environmental abuse, and develop sustainable management of precious marine resources,” says Yen Ning. “This isn’t just about trade, it’s about Taiwan’s responsibility to treat workers fairly and to contribute to the ongoing sustainability of our oceans.”

Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency has proposed a new distant waters fisheries act, which Greenpeace says will be meaningless without enforcement.

TheFishSite News Desk

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