Blog Post #6: NGOs and Taiwan

The main concern that Linda Polman raises in her book Crisis Caravan is that so many non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, go unchecked by the privileged ones who support and send them around the world. Polman urges people to continue to question NGOs, and to start if they aren’t already. Many of them go unchecked when it comes to how they use the money they receive and the ethics of how they’re providing for those perceived to be in need of assistance.

Another main concern is how the aided communities will fair after the NGO inevitably moves on to another community. If it’s not considered properly, they can leave communities worse off than they were before the NGO came in. Furthermore, thousands of dollars can go to waste if an NGO either misuses, or does not properly monitor its funds. Because there isn’t really any umbrella bodies to watch out for these kinds of discretions, she calls on people to be questioning and policing NGOs on behalf of the world.

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Taiwan is a very fertile growing ground for NGOs, as it has been dubbed practically a “miracle” for its “model of democracy and a flourishing open society conducive to the vibrant growth of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).” Because of their position as a political outsider in the modern world (thanks to its relationship with China), it has made efforts through NGOs to, “engage in international cooperation and international humanitarian aid, in other words, promote people-to-people diplomacy.” In North America Taiwan has 6 NGOS, 58 in South America, 10 in Europe, 76 in Africa, 29 in West Asia, 1 in Oceania, and 176 in East Asia.

In Taiwan recently, NGOs have been called to speak about particularly workers rights, corruption. One Taiwanese NGO was also banned from the UN by China, emphasizing China’s power over Taiwan.

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One of the most controversial news in Taiwan right now has been human rights violations concerning foreign workers in Taiwan, as alleged in the U.S. Department of State’s “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016.” The country has been accused of high volumes of human trafficking being used for labor throughout Taiwan. These foreign workers are being brought in becoming victims of coercion under threat of deportation, sexual harassment and assault, and poor working conditions. NGOs have been keeping track of and funding campaigns against the violations that take place. Some have “advocated lifting restrictions on foreign workers voluntarily transferring their contracts to different employers.”

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A Belgian NGO is currently fighting corruption in Taiwan. They performed a study in the Asia-Pacific region and found that those who are more likely to pay bribes are wealthier, and are mostly used to influence public education and utilities. Majority of people felt the government wasn’t doing enough to fight corruption, but didn’t feel that corruption was increasing.

NGO’s may not be known for being corrupt themselves but they know how to follow the money wherever they go. Polman said in her book, “Aid organizations are businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa” (p. 177). What Polman means by this is they go wherever the money is under the mission of assisting whoever is there. However, once the money is no longer flowing toward that location, they move elsewhere. She calls this “contract fever.” This is highly problematic because it provides less incentive to make sure the work they are doing there is actually helping, because they’re getting money no matter if what, they just have to have publicity-worthy assistance wherever they are.

This publicity means that journalists, as well as the public and governments, need to be watchdogs when it comes to NGO’s. Because helping people is great and great publicity, many don’t think to look at how some NGO’s can be problematic. If they’re seen doing so much good, how could they possibly be bad? Polman says that journalist are actually guilty of reinforcing contract fever and corruption within NGO’s – reinforcing the mentality of going wherever the money is and getting a few publishable photos of them doing so to encourage more donations. She calls on the public, governments, and journalists to keep NGO’s accountable for what they’re doing.

For Taiwan, though, China’s government has been a major roadblock in some of their international work, as China blocked and NGO working to help treat rare diseases from operating through the United Nations. China objected to their speaking at a UN event moments before it was supposed to take place, barring them from doing so. According to the Taipei Times, “The Ministry of Health and Welfare yesterday condemned China’s behavior as ‘very unreasonable.'” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered its apologies, but its hands were tied by China’s hold over Taiwan. This definitely calls into question the power of non-governmental organizations, when the Chinese government is able to blockade them simply because their country of origin.

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