North Korean workers process salmon, snow crab shipped to US

Ann Santiago
October 7, 2017

Workers exported by North Korea are exploited for $200 million to $500 million per year that goes back to the regime. That could account for a sizeable portion of its nuclear weapons and missile programmes, which South Korea says has cost well over $1 billion.

AP tracked such products to the US, Canada, Germany and elsewhere in the European Union. They must take the few steps to the factories in pairs or groups, with North Korean minders ensuring no one strays. They receive a fraction of their salaries, while the rest - as much as 70 percent - is taken by the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's government.

John Connelly, president of the largest seafood trade association in the US, said the National Fisheries Institute was strongly encouraging all of its companies to investigate their supply chains "to ensure that wages to the workers, and are not siphoned off to support a risky dictator".

Those industries also export to the United States, but AP did not track specific shipments except for seafood.

"Any country that hosts North Korean guest workers, provides any economic or military benefits, or fails to fully implement United Nations security council resolutions is aiding and abetting a unsafe regime", Tillerson said in July after North Korea's successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

"It's really up to US Customs and Border Protection to enforce laws that make it a crime to import products of forced labor". "It's supporting a repressive regime".

North Korean laborers work in several industries around the world, including construction in Gulf states and shipbuilding in Poland.

"Instead of making the goods in North Korea and trying to export them, which wouldn't work because of sanctions regime, you export the North Koreans", said Former Ambassador to Monitor & Combat Trafficking in Persons Luis CdeBaca.

There are about 3,000 North Koreans working in the city of Hunchun. "Until early this year, more than 20,000 North Koreans worked in Dandong".

The AP's investigation adds to a growing saga over some of the appalling conditions workers face in the seafood industry.

Some North Koreans work in Russian Federation or the Middle East, but the majority works in China. The other Chinese companies didn't comment. And it's up to corporations to be responsible for their own supply chains.

Often the fish arrives in generic packaging. Aldi in Australia said it does not source any products from the factories in question.

Wal-Mart spokesman Marilee McInnis said company officials banned their suppliers from getting seafood processed at a Hunchun plant a year ago after an audit revealed potential issues with migrant workers.

Some U.S. companies had indirect ties to North Korean laborers in Hunchun.

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