Violating One’s Rights to Comply with the Law?

Paradox of Norms and Policies Regarding Migrant Workers in Taiwan
Thursday, 22 March 2018 - 2:30 pm to 4:00 pm
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Research Chair in Taiwan Studies
Lecture by Vivianne Yen-ching Weng (National Chengchi University, Taiwan): Violating One’s Rights to Comply with the Law? Paradox of Norms and Policies Regarding Migrant Workers in Taiwan   Human trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery are becoming increasingly frequent in distant-water fisheries. Known to work in tough conditions with low salaries, many foreign fishermen recruited overseas on board some Taiwanese fishing fleets have been reported missing, killed or ill-treated. Following a series of reports published by an international team of investigative journalists, the whole industry is now labeled as exploitation of “blood and sweat”. Meanwhile, the public often hear about cases of confiscation of passports, private life under heavy surveillance, sexual assault, and even deprivation of personal liberty imposed by the employers on migrant domestic workers. One response to these human rights violations is the criminalization, especially with the adoption of the Human Trafficking Prevention Act in 2009. However, is it an effective mean of prevention? The criminalization/victimization approach leads to heavier penalties, especially in the extreme cases. However, there are a considerable number of cases falling into the grey area between human trafficking and reasonable labor standard. Because of the responsibilities imposed on employers or personnel recruiting agencies with respect to “runaway” migrant workers, management measures can turn into one of firm control or even coercion. For migrant workers, without the possibility to change one’s employer, to reunite with family, or to apply for permanent resident permit in Taiwan, staying legally does not offer any long-term perspectives. In these conditions, becoming a run-away migrant worker seems a better solution than dealing with a human trafficker. In light of these contradictions between the legal norms and the immigration policies applied to migrant workers in Taiwan, isn’t it tempting for everyone therein to break the rules?