Modern Slavery: Exploitation of North Korean Overseas Workers

Frankfurt am Main, 24 February 2020 – In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korean workers are returning to China en masse after spending the Lunar New Year holiday in North Korea.

The North Korean government has sent approximately 50,000 to 70,000 workers abroad to earn foreign currency to support the regime in response to the economic sanctions imposed against North Korea by the United Nations and other countries. The workers endure physical abuse and slave-like conditions in over 40 countries including Russia, China, and Poland.

In Russia, most of North Korean workers are employed in logging and mining industries and are forced to work around 12 to 16 hours every day. North Korean labourers in China work mostly at construction sites and factories with inadequate wages, insufficient safety measures, and limited freedom of movement. In addition, 70 to 90 % of their monthly income are taken away by the North Korean government for various causes.

North Korean workers face a very similar situation even in places where the workers’ rights are protected by the European Union labour law. Many are working in dismal working conditions that are far from those guaranteed by the EU legislation. In Poland, particularly in shipyards, North Korean workers work over 12 hours per day receiving less than 120 Euros per month. This is an evident exploitation of North Korean workers. They are not able to raise their voices against their government, nor they can speak up about the abuses that are inflicted upon them.

When countries focus on protecting the human rights of North Korean workers instead of gaining profit from their labour, the world can become a better place for those who are vulnerable and voiceless.

Dooyoung Kim