N. Korean workers process seafood in China for USA stores, restaurants

Jon Howard
October 7, 2017

As well as the USA, the AP also tracked products made by North Korean workers to Canada, Germany and elsewhere in the European Union. These workers face threats of government reprisals against them or their relatives in the [North Korea] if they attempt to escape or complain to outside parties.

While North Korean workers have been documented overseas, the AP investigation reveals that some products they make go to the United States.

The measures taken by the city government will "have a big impact because we had been able to hire North Korean workers on the cheap", said a senior official of a factory in Dandong that now employs North Korean workers.

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

"The factory pays a broker, who gives 70 percent of the money to the North Korean 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". Plants in Hunchun were found using North Korean workers.

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

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Every Western company involved that agreed to comment said forced labour and potential support for North Korea's weapons programme were unacceptable in their supply chains.

American companies aren't allowed to import products made by North Korean workers anywhere in the world, and companies doing business with them could face criminal charges for using North Korean workers or materially benefiting from their work. "It's supporting a repressive regime".

Some 3,000 North Koreans are believed to work in the area. The scene along the China-North Korea border in the wild mountains of northeast Asia provides some clues. "And they all promised they were going to take action and, as of today, I'm hearing many are simply cutting off these suppliers", Mendoza says.

Some of the packaging on the seafood was branded in China with familiar names such as Walmart or Sea Queen, a seafood brand sold exclusively in the ALDI supermarket chain, which has 1,600 stores across 35 states.

A worker stacks crates at the Yanbian Shenghai company which hires some North Korean workers to process seafood in Hunchun.

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

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