Factories in China implicated . . .
On Friday, The Guardian revealed that the British government purchased personal protective equipment (PPE) from a Chinese factory that secretly uses forced labour from North Korea. The investigative report suggests that Britain’s purchase is not an isolated incident. The U.S. and several European, Asian, and African countries are also sourcing PPE from Chinese factories that rely on forced labour from North Korea. The production and purchasing of this PPE would constitute a violation of UN sanctions, which are meant to stem the flow of illicit revenue to the Kim Jong Un regime. Such funds not only finance Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, but also allow the Kim family to purchase luxury items.
Other tainted supply chains . . .
The Guardian story broke one day after the U.S. government blacklisted two companies – a Russian construction company and a North Korean trading company operating in Russia – for similar violations. After China, Russia is believed to be the second-largest employer of North Korean forced labour. Estimates of the total number of North Koreans forced to work overseas – almost always under dismal conditions – vary widely, from 50,000 to as many as 150,000. In addition to China and Russia, several countries in the Persian Gulf, Southeast Asia, and even Europe also employ these forced labourers in a wide range of industries, including construction, logging, mining, shipbuilding, textiles and apparel, seafood, and restaurants and hospitality. The North Korean government claims most of these workers’ wages and keeps them under constant surveillance.
Challenges of tightening the sanctions . . .
These revelations about North Korea’s forced overseas labour come at a challenging time for the international community. Rapidly rising rates of COVID-19 around the world may mean that purchasers of PPE feel as though they can’t afford to be too particular about the ethics of their supply chains. Meanwhile, the Kim regime is likely to pursue this stream of illicit revenue with even more vigour, as his country’s economy comes under the dual strain from a recent typhoon and flooding and the closure of the border with China due to COVID-19.
- Al Jazeera: Bureau 39: Cash for Kim
- Al Jazeera: US sanctions two firms for North Korea forced labour
- The Guardian: UK sourced PPE from factories secretly using North Korean slave labour