Business

North Korean workers in China prepare salmon for United States diners

North Korean workers in China prepare salmon for United States diners

Americans buying salmon for dinner at Walmart or ALDI may inadvertently have subsidized the North Korean government as it builds its nuclear weapons program, according to an AP investigation.

Shipping records showed that more than 100 cargo containers with more than 2,000 tons of salmon, snow crab and other fish were sent to the USA and Canada from factories where North Koreans worked, AP said. The products were sold under the brand names of Walmart and Sea Queen, a house brand of Aldi.

At Chinese factories, North Korean workers aren't allowed to leave their compounds without permission or their North Korean minders. It added the workers are paid a fraction of their salaries, while as much as 70 percent "is taken by North Korea's government". "The majority work in Russian Federation and China, but Middle Eastern, African, and other European and Asian countries also host North Korean laborers", the report explained.

American importers who use North Korean products could potentially find themselves facing criminal charges: Importing products made by North Korean workers anywhere in the world is a federal crime, following a new law signed by President Trump in early August. "Many North Korean laborers sent by the government to work overseas under bilateral contracts with foreign governments also face conditions of forced labor ..." South Korea estimates that the nuclear program is worth more than $1 billion.

John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute, urged its 300 members, including the largest seafood importers in the US, to "ensure that wages go to the workers and are not siphoned off to support a risky dictator".

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Every company the AP asked for comment noted that they forbid forced labor.

"Instead of making the goods in North Korea and trying to export them, which wouldn't work because of sanctions regime, you export the North Koreans", said Former Ambassador to Monitor & Combat Trafficking in Persons Luis CdeBaca. Many said they were going to investigate or had already cut ties.

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

According to a North Korean source with knowledge of the issue, Chinese frontier public security officers in military garb are enforcing thorough inspections and crackdowns on smuggling from the Hwanggumpyong Island area to the Yalu River Estuary near Donggang. But the AP notes that the seafood could remain in the supply chain for "more than a year". Customs records indicate that Chicken of the Sea, owned by Thai Union, did business with sister companies of the Hunchun factories in another part of China.

Information for this article was contributed by Martha Mendoza, Leonardo Haberkorn, Han Guan Ng, Fu Ting, Kelvin K. Chan, Frank Jordans and Jon Gambrell of The Associated Press.

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