U. S. vows to block im­ports tied to N. Korean work­ers

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - NATION & WORLD -

U. S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion says it is ready to block U. S. im­ports of seafood — as well as any other goods— pro­duced by North Korean la­bor­ers who work in China.

An Associated Press in­ves­ti­ga­tion tracked salmon, squid and cod pro­cessed by North Kore­ans work­ing at Chi­nese fac­to­ries and shipped to Amer­i­can stores, in­clud­ing Wal­mart and Aldi.

The North Korean work­ers re­ceive only a frac­tion of their pay— most goes straight to the North Korean state. This means that Amer­i­can con­sumers buy­ing seafood la­beled “Caught in the USA, Pro­cessed in China” may in­ad­ver­tently be sub­si­diz­ing the gov­ern­ment of Kim Jong Un as it builds nu­clear weapons, and also sup­port­ing forced la­bor.

U. S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion said it is re­view­ing the al­le­ga­tions and, if war­ranted, would “pur­sue all en­force­ment ac­tions and pro­hibit goods from im­por­ta­tion as ap­pro­pri­ate.” The com­pa­nies that re­sponded also vowed to in­ves­ti­gate ties with sup­pli­ers.

At this point, any­thing made by North Korean work­ers any­where is pre­sumed to be made with forced la­bor, the State Depart­ment said in a state­ment Fri­day.

“North Kore­ans sent overseas do not have a choice in the work; the gov­ern­ment ul­ti­mately as­signs them and they are not free to change jobs,” said the state­ment, not­ing that wages and pass­ports are typ­i­cally with­held by North Korean su­per­vi­sors.

Rep. Chris Smith,

R- N. J., who has called re­peat­edly for tougher en­force­ment, said the La­bor Depart­ment has al­ready iden­ti­fied traf­fick­ing in 12 sec­tors of goods ex­ported by China.

“CBP should be stop­ping ev­ery ship­ment from those sec­tors — and now traf­fick­ing- tainted salmon, too,” he said.

A White House Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil spokesman said the North Korean gov­ern­ment’s scheme to out­source its la­bor un­der­scores why the U. S. has pushed for re­stric­tions on North Korean for­eign work­ers. The spokesman said all coun­tries should, at a min­i­mum, ban com­pa­nies from bring­ing in North Korean crews, as pledged in re­cent United Na­tions sanc­tions.

China is among the coun­tries that have promised to com­ply, al­ready ban­ning im­ports of North Korean seafood, and say­ing no more North Korean work­ers will be al­lowed start­ing next year.

“But all na­tions must go fur­ther and re­ject what is clearly a de­spi­ca­ble prac­tice that only serves the regime’s nu­clear am­bi­tions,” said the NSC spokesman, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Wal­mart said its sup­plier has ad­dressed the prob­lem, although it did not spec­ify how. Wal­mart and Aldi said they are com­mit­ted to hu­man rights and fair la­bor prac­tices, and ex­pect the same from their busi­ness part­ners.

At a time when North Korea faces sanc­tions on many ex­ports, the gov­ern­ment is send­ing tens of thou­sands of work­ers world­wide, bring­ing in rev­enue es­ti­mated at any­where from $ 200 mil­lion to $ 500 mil­lion a year. 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.

North Kore­ans overseas work in con­struc­tion in the Gulf states, ship­build­ing in Poland and log­ging in Rus­sia. In Uruguay, author­i­ties told the AP, about 90 North Kore­ans crewed fish­ing boats last year.

“I am not sur­prised at all,” said An­thony Tal­bott, who di­rects the Univer­sity of Day­ton’s Hu­man Rights Cen­ter. “North Korea has prob­a­bly the sin­gle high­est level of state­sanc­tioned slav­ery in the world; it’s a ma­jor source of in­come for them.”


North Kore­an­work­er­swalk to dor­mi­to­ries in Hunchun, China. North Korean la­bor­er­swork­ing abroad are be­lieved to gen­er­ate up to $500 mil­lion a year in rev­enue.

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