I’ve written before about the exploitation of overseas workers in Taiwan (here and here), so I was interested to see this report in the Taipei Times:
Early last month, the US State Department downgraded Taiwan to its “tier two” watch list in its latest Trafficking in Persons Report.
This was the second time the country has been downgraded since the annual report was first released two years ago. Other countries listed in the watch list include China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Israel.
In 2004, Taiwan was rated ‘Tier 1’ (“fully comply with minimum standards.”), last year it was rated ‘Tier 2’ (“do not fully comply with minimum standards but are making significant efforts”), and this year are now rated ‘Tier 2 watch list’ (“do not fully comply with minimum standards but are making significant efforts” and it’s a serious or growing problem). Bad news for Taiwan, you would think.
A very fair assessment
Firstly, this year’s report on Taiwan is excellent – read the relevant bits here, it’s well worth reading. It identifies the many problems (fake marriages of ‘overseas brides’, exploitation of overseas blue-collar workers, the plight of foreign maids), the main causes (corrupt recruitment agencies, lack of protection under the law), and the ineffective regulation and legislative efforts which are exasperating the issue. The report is clearly written by someone who carefully researched the problem, interviewed all the right people and gave as clear an analysis as is possible for such a murky underworld. Taiwan clearly deserves the poor rating it received. This makes the initial response from Taiwan’s government even more laughable:
Responding to the criticism in the US report, the director of the council’s Foreign Labor Section, Tsai Meng-liang (蔡孟良), on Friday said: “There must be some misunderstanding.”
A comparison with previous years
So, if the report is accurate, and the rating has dropped on two consecutive years, is Taiwan descending into anarchy with alarming speed, or is something else going on? To look at this we need to look at the previous reports.
In 2004 (‘Tier 1 rating’) the report said:
Taiwan authorities fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Taiwan recognizes the problem of trafficking in persons and has made concerted efforts to prevent the exploitation of minors and to investigate trafficking cases. The government supports prevention programs, has comprehensive laws that criminalize trafficking, and provides access to protective services for trafficking victims.
In 2005 (‘Tier 2 rating’):
Taiwan authorities do not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, they are making significant efforts to do so. Taiwan authorities have increased efforts to provide protection for trafficking victims. Despite prosecutions of traffickers, there is insufficient protection for trafficking victims, particularly for women and girls from the P.R.C. While illegal immigrants from other countries are generally quickly repatriated, the P.R.C. often delays Taiwan efforts to assist P.R.C. victims to return home.
In 2006 (‘Tier 2 watch list rating’):
Taiwan authorities do not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, they are making significant efforts to do so. Taiwan is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for its failure to show evidence of increasing efforts over the past year to address trafficking, despite ample resources to do so, particularly to address the serious level of forced labor and sexual servitude among legally migrating Southeast Asian contract workers and brides. Taiwan authorities need to demonstrate political will in tackling the trafficking in persons problem on the island. Taiwan should also develop a clear policy and action plan that adequately covers sex trafficking and involuntary servitude among foreign workers and brides. Comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation that criminalizes all forms of trafficking is critical to punishing traffickers who currently operate with relative impunity.
In three years, the tone of the report on Taiwan has changed from “There don’t seem to be any major problems” to “Hmm, there are problems, but the government has assured us they’re working on them” to “There are serious problems, and the government is making the right noises but is totally ineffective in dealing with them”. None of the issues being raised are particularly new so the main thing you can deduce from this is:
Taiwan has always been this bad, it’s just the US Government hasn’t realised it in previous years.
The silver lining
There is some good news hidden in all this: the improved analysis by the US Government is partly due to improved openness and publicity of the issues in Taiwan over the last couple of years. The first step in addressing issues like this has to be public awareness – and the front page news stories in Taiwan over the last year have played a part in improving this.
The next step is to get some political will to improve the situation. As the quote from the CLA above implies, this is still some way off – but pressure from the US with the release of this report can only help.