North Korea continues to pressure its overseas workers to produce revenue with little regard for their wellbeing – slavery?
PP found reports that according to a Mauritius investigative journalist, a North Korean fishing crew based in the country was refused the permission to access medical treatment by the DPRK regime – in spite of severe illness that left the members of the crew unable to work. The North Korea government refused permission for the sick workers to even leave Mauritius despite warnings about a severe threat to life and wellbeing.
The problems of North Korean fishing crews has made headlines before, as the isolated country’s desperate economic situation forces them into waters further and further from the North Korean coast. In January this year, three members of a twelve-man crew were found dead after their boat capsized in the Sea of Japan. Four more bodies were found in a separate boat nearby. (See article here.)
Fishing is not the only dangerous industry that DPRK laborers are forced into by the regime. North Korean workers have been killed in industrial accidents all around the world, including three miners that burned to death in an explosion at a coal mine in Malaysia in November 2014. (See article here.) Construction workers building the World Cup stadium in Qatar were taking home approximately 10% of the salary they were supposed to earn, with the rest being sent straight to the regime. The amounted to approximately $100/month in pay left over for the workers to live on – less than $3.50 per day.
It is clear to PP that higher pressure on fisherman shows that ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions are having a major impact on North Korea’s economy. Since the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2371 in September last year, pressure has really increased against the state and its overseas business ventures. 2371, which bans the member states from accepting additional workers from North Korea, has been strongly implemented by some of DPRK’s previous international allies.
For example, Angola, traditionally a North Korean ally, expelled 154 North Korean construction workers in November 2017; Sudan announced the stop of all their trade and military and the U.A.E. agreed to suspend any new visas from October 2017. The pressure is only increasing!
This should all be good news for North Korea’s overseas workforce, which has long labored under a form of slavery in support of the repressive government. However, reports from human rights activists suggests to PP that North Korea continues to send workers overseas in contravention of UN sanctions and the dangerous working conditions they are facing. The numbers are unclear but between 50,000 and 80,000 North Koreans are believed to be laboring overseas, with most of them based in Russia and China. (see article here.) There are still reports of construction workers earning less than $2 an hour, a figure which looks even more worrying if the workers only actually receive 10% of their earnings.
North Korea continues to make the case for more work permits for laborers based in Russia, as well as seeking to send more workers to other countries including Uganda , Belarus and Nigeria. Former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s call for African nations to end economic ties with North Korea suggests to PP that this activity remains a concern, in spite of the extensive sanctions in place. North Korea’s continued human rights abuses against its own citizens, at home and abroad, must stimulate other countries to stick firmly to UN resolutions.
The outlook for North Korean workers overseas remains difficult. Showing just how close to slavery this employment is, PP hears reports that workers have had their mobile phones confiscated to limit their access to information and to prevent defections. To get around this, the regime chooses workers who have wives and children in the DPRK so they are less likely to defect.
Without more international pressure to stop this form of modern day slavery, North Korean citizens will continue to die in unsafe mines, fishing vessels and construction sites around the world.