North Korean forced laborers, in the heart of the European Union? It sounds impossible to believe.
But a VICE investigation has found extensive evidence of North Koreans working in conditions of forced labor in Poland, with their wages funding the DPRK regime. VICE gained access to confidential documents such as service contracts, payment records, registers of persons, passport copies, and excerpts from a population register smuggled out of North Korea, the latter indicating a Polish company may be being run by a high-ranking member of the North Korean military.
The investigation was sparked by the death of a North Korean working as a welder at a major shipyard in the Gdansk region. He suffered 95 percent burns in an accident that was only possible because of inadequate working equipment and unsafe practices, the yard’s responsible work inspector Tomasz Rutkowski told us.
A document seen by VICE revealed that Polish National Labor Inspectorate (PIP) found 14 different Polish companies using North Korean workers between 2010 and 2016. The investigation focused on Rungrado and three Polish companies, two of which we discovered supply North Korean workers to two major shipyards which build and repair ships for clients across the European Union (EU).
PIP’s documents show that North Koreans were also found working in industries such as surface construction, furniture production, agriculture, metalworking, medicine, and finance.
A company known as the Korea Rungrado General Trading Corporation, which is directly owned by Kim’s Workers’ Party and has been implicated in the illicit shipment of Scud missile parts to Egypt, was also named in the document.