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Uncovering invisible slavery: the underbelly of Taiwan's fishery industry

SOPA award winner Cheng Han-wen gave a talk dubbed "Invisible Slavery", as part of a series of presentations given this week at Hong Kong Baptist University.

"Taiwan is an island, surrounded by ocean, but it seems that most people are not familiar with its fishing industry," Cheng Han-wen, a Taiwanese investigative journalist said.

Initially, Cheng and her team wanted to write about the decline in capture fisheries. However, when they were carrying out an interview with a fishery overseer, they discovered the industry's enslavement of young Indonesian fishermen by accident.

"The stories about the exploitation of fishermen are rarely covered," added Cheng, "because the Taiwanese media often focus on the epic grandeur of its offshore fishery."

The discovery later guided them to an Indonesian village, where eight in ten villagers said they had been to Taiwan, as some of them were proficient in Mandarin. A villager who used to work in Taiwan's fishing industry was mentally traumatised; another "jumped to his death", according to Cheng.  

Cheng and her team have won three SOPA awards in 2017 on reporting about the exploitation in the Taiwanese fishing industry .

"The ship master has also beaten me up," Cheng quoted from her interview with Supriyanto, a fishery labourer from Central Java, Indonesia and was later found dead in a Taiwanese commercial offshore fishing vessel due to sepsis.

Reduced to a bag of bones, his dead body was then sent back to his home in Central Java.

Although his story had been covered by several outlets, no one went as deep as The Reporter: An award-winning alternative media composed of ten journalists and three photojournalists, specialising in investigative and in-depth reporting.

"If a fisherman and a fish were to drop into the ocean at the same time, no doubt the fish would be rescued first." said Cheng. 

Despite receiving international recognition for the story, the young journalist still feels powerless about the issue because the coverage has not brought about immediate change in the society.

"There's still a long way to go," Cheng said.

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) started as a newspaper in 1969. Today, it is published across multiple media platforms and updated constantly to bring the latest news and analyses to its readers.


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