Wednesday, 18 October, 2017

North Korean Slave Labor Used to Process Fish Sold in US Stores

Getty Image Getty Image
Jo Caldwell | 07 October, 2017, 00:22

Americans buying salmon for dinner at Walmart or ALDI may inadvertently have subsidized the North Korean government as it builds its nuclear weapons program, according to an AP investigation.

The authorities in a northeastern Chinese border city have secretly warned local firms they will be slapped with fines if they newly hire North Korean workers in violation of United Nations sanctions, amounting to 5,000 yuan ($750) per worker, sources familiar with the situation said Wednesday.

One of the products dealt with by the factories is Sea Queen - a fish brand sold exclusively at Aldi supermarkets. North Korean minders ensure that workers do not have access to phones or email and that workers walk between the dormitory and their jobs in pairs- conditions that many in the US would refer to as "modern slavery".

China's implementation of new sanctions punishing North Korea for its nuclear and missile programs is now "literally expelling North Korean workers", a resident of China's border city of Dandong told RFA's Korean Service on Wednesday. Workers receive only a fraction of the money paid to the North Korean government for their work and face punishment if they fail to meet production or work targets.

According to an Associated Press investigation, North Korea workers, who are outsourced by dictator Kim Jong Un's regime to work in Chinese factories, help process seafood that ends up in US stores, including Walmart and ALDI. North Korea makes up to $500 million a year by shipping citizens overseas to work as dirt-cheap laborers.

The AP reached out to the Western companies involved, and each one agreed they would not tolerate modern day slavery and the potential support of Kim Jong Un's oppressive regime in their supply chains.

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John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute, urged its 300 members, including the largest seafood importers in the USA, to "ensure that wages go to the workers and are not siphoned off to support a unsafe dictator".

According to a North Korean source with knowledge of the issue, Chinese frontier public security officers in military garb are enforcing thorough inspections and crackdowns on smuggling from the Hwanggumpyong Island area to the Yalu River Estuary near Donggang.

Walmart said it had already banned their suppliers from getting seafood processed at a Hunchun plant, in China, after an audit revealed "labour problems".

Aldi said its United Kingdom stores are not linked to the factories.

Seafood can remain in the supply chain for more than a year. Thai Union said the sister company they do business with meets all of their fair labor standards, and should not be penalized just because they have the same owner.

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