Tens of thousands of North Koreans are being forced into slave labour in deplorable conditions at home and abroad while their wages are siphoned off to prop up Kim Jong Un’s regime, human rights activists claim.
Forced labour is seen as a form of political repression in the pariah state and opponents can be sent to North Korean labour camps or contracted to foreign countries, including Russia, China and Middle Eastern states, for what has been termed “state-sponsored slavery”.
Ahn Myeong-chul, the head of NK Watch, a Seoul-based rights group believes the money is being used to buy luxury goods for Jong-un’s followers and to finance the recent building boom in Pyongyang.
“North Korea is exploiting their labour and salaries to fatten the private coffers of Kim Jong-un,” she told the New York Times.
Workers are forced to endure back-breaking work for little or no money as their salaries are confiscated to raise much needed foreign currency for the North Korean government to pay for pet projects.
Forced labour has a long history in North Korea, stretching back to the 1980s, but the situation is thought to have deteriorated under the current leader.
Reports by the North Korea Strategy Centre and other bodies have found that workers, who work in industries including logging, construction and agriculture, received only two days off a year and faced punishments if they failed to meet their targets.
A US State Department report into trafficking in North Korea found that many thousands of citizens were sent abroad, where their movements were controlled by “minders”.
Threats of reprisals against workers’ family members ensured they did not try to flee, despite receiving "only a fraction of the money paid to the North Korean government for their work”.
In 2014 the UN’s rapporteur for human rights called for Jong-un and his regime to be referred to the international criminal court for crimes against humanity, as he has presided over horrific human rights abuses that have no "parallel in the contemporary world".Reuse content