Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said increased trafficking of its citizens is one of North Korea’s ways of earning foreign exchange.
North Korea, frequently ranked as the world’s worst human rights abuser, has lured between 50,000 and 60,000 of its citizens to work in industries around the globe with the promise they would keep their wages, according to a paper from the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights presented on Tuesday. Instead, the wages are sent to the North Korean government, generating as much as $2.3 billion per year.
Industries employing the laborers range from logging and mining to restaurants, and workers who complain or escape risk reprisal against themselves and their families who remain in North Korea, said Robert King, special envoy for North Korea Human Rights Issues at the State Department, at the House hearing.
Workers have been sent through bilateral contracts to around 40 countries, primarily Russia, China, Mongolia and nations in Africa, central Europe and the Middle East, according to a State Department Trafficking in Persons Report from March.
One defector, Lim Il, told the Lantos commission that he had been a state employee in North Korea but went to Kuwait to work at a construction company, where he was required to put in 14-hour days under strict surveillance, with two days off per month. “I think we were slave laborers,” Il said.
After escaping to the South Korean embassy, he learned that his salary had all gone to the Office of the Worker’s Party that manages foreign currency. “The money obtained through the export of laborers overseas [is] used as a personal fund for Kim Jong-un,” the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights paper said.