A group of African students who came to Taiwan with dreams of learning and developing their skills while studying abroad instead found themselves skinning chicken carcasses at a rural poultry processing plant.
The 47 students from the Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly called Swaziland) were recruited by MingDao University in Pitou Township of Changhua county in western Taiwan for a “work-study program” in 2018.
An advertisement from the university promised the students “hands-on, practical work experience” while studying to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration where they would earn enough to cover tuition, accommodation, and other fees while having a bit of spending money left over.
However, when they arrived at MingDao, the students discovered that they had been assigned work at a chicken processing plant where they would work long hours peeling the skin off the birds inside a factory where temperatures dipped well below freezing in the winter.
The situation was first reported on back in November 2018 when some of the students made public their complaints, causing the Taiwanese ambassador to Estwani to promise to look into the matter.
One article from the Estwani Observer at the time declared that the students were being used as “slaves.”
“Now at MingDao our children tell us that they work for 40 hours a week, about 10 hours a day on average, in a cold room where they peel off chicken skins in a room below ten degrees Celsius in exchange for lessons and accommodation,” the article describes.
However, the whole saga was largely overlooked until this month when Taiwan’s Ministry of Education rendered its verdict against Mingdao, finding that the university had illegally required Eswatini students to work “internships” outside of school for more than 20 hours a week, according to Taiwan News.
The university has been required to improve the living and teaching situation of the Eswatini students while coming up with a compromise on tuition and fees. They are not allowed to force the students to work to offset their costs and they will be banned from enrolling new foreign students for the coming year.
Meanwhile, MingDao has attempted to portray this as all one big misunderstanding. The university vice-president said that the students had only worked at the chicken processing plant for a few weeks before school administrators helped them to find new employers following complaints.
He added that the university had already come to an understanding with the Estwani students.
The school held a press conference last week together with some of the Estwani students, presenting a united front. At the presser, university officials accused the media of unfair and false reporting.
Eswatini is one of only 15 states in the world that still recognizes Taiwan and the only remaining country to do so in Africa.
This isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened in Taiwan. Also in 2018, over 40 Sri Lankan students at Kang Ning University in Tainan were tricked into working at a slaughterhouse as part of a similar work-study scheme.