Go to contents

North Korean Labor Exploited Overseas?

Posted June. 07, 2006 07:17,   


In the 2006 Trafficking in Persons Report it released on June 5, the United States Department of State stated that North Korean laborers sent to countries such as Mongolia, Russia, and the Czech Republic may be subjected to forced or coerced labor and exploitation.

The department also raised the possibility that the North Korean regime may be taking advantage of its people working in foreign-invested firms in an industrial complex in the country, seemingly referring to the Gaesong Industrial Complex.

This is the first time for the annual report to mention North Korean workers sent abroad or those working in foreign companies. The move is likely to be intending to cut off foreign capital flowing into the country by putting pressure on the recipient countries of North Korean workers in order to prevent the dispatch.

Drawing on news about North Korean workers sent to Mongolia, Russian, and the Czech Republic, the report noted suspicions have been raised that these people are being forced or coerced to carry out the labor.

For example, it cited a Polish newspaper’s article of the workers being subjected to forced labor but unable to escape because of their families back home, and another one of North Koreans suffering exploitation in the Czech Republic.

The report also stated that up to 200 North Korean laborers are working in Mongolia without the freedom to terminate their own contracts, giving rise to strong concerns of forced labor.

Ambassador John R. Miller, the director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, stated at the briefing the same day that it is unclear whether North Korean workers are paid or if the wages go to the North Korean government.

The report also laid emphasis on the fact that more than half of the tens of thousands of North Korean defectors in China are women being made victims of trafficking, and that women and children escapees are sold off as brides or subjected to forced labor by human traffickers.

While South Korea was placed in tier 1 in this year’s report, in recognition of its efforts to fully support the eradication of trafficking in persons and providing relief to the victims, North Korea came in the lowest category of tier 3, along with Iran, Myanmar, Cuba, and Zimbabwe.

The report also warned that unless tier 3 countries start to take steps to redress their wrongful practices within 90 days, they could be subjected to sanctions, such as the suspension of U.S. government’s aid from this October when the new fiscal year of the U.S. begins.

Soon-Taek Kwon maypole@donga.com