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07 October 2017, 12:23 | Ruby West
Buy this grocery item – and you could be helping North Korea
Wal-Mart said Thursday it no longer imports fish from a Chinese factory that employed North Koreans after a report said the USA retailer may have inadvertently subsidized the nuclear-armed state. "We can spot many North Korean workers at Dandong Station and the immigration office waiting to go home".
The workers, 70 percent of whose salary is taken by North Korea's government, are essentially enslaved-they sleep on "metal bunk beds in fluorescent-lit Chinese dormitories", they must travel to the factory in pairs or groups, they have zero privacy, are not allowed to leave the compounds without permission, and have no access to phones or email. The scene along the China-North Korea border provides some clues. The trade is illegal under a new law signed by President Donald Trump in August, which prohibits American companies from importing goods made by North Koreans anywhere in the world.
In an attempt to combat sanctions, North Korea has exported thousands of its workers overseas, and some of them have ended up in seafood processing companies that ship to countries around the world, including the US. That could account for a sizable portion of North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs, which South Korea says have cost more than $1 billion.
John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute, urged its 300 members to "ensure that wages go to the workers, and are not siphoned off to support a unsafe dictator".
North Korean workers in China are processing seafood that ends up for sale in American stores, an Associated Press report published Wednesday revealed.
Every company the AP asked for comment noted that they forbid forced labor. They said they'd investigate, and some said they'd already cut off ties with suppliers.
North Korean workers first arriving in China don't wear portrait badges of former national leaders Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il, RFA's source said.
United Nations sanctions prevent North Korea from obtaining work permits for new workers abroad, but do nothing to constrict the workforce already overseas. But the AP notes that the seafood could remain in the supply chain for "more than a year".
Aldi said its United Kingdom stores are not linked to the factories.
Spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said: "Combating forced labour is a complex problem that no one company, industry, or government can tackle alone". Thai Union said the sister company they do business with meets all of their fair labor standards, and should not be penalized just because they have the same owner.
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