This means Americans buying salmon for dinner at Walmart or ALDI may have subsidized the North Korean government as it builds its nuclear weapons program. The jobs, which are highly sought after by North Korean citizens, can generate an estimated $200 to $500 million a year for the regime. 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. The trade is illegal under a new law signed by President Donald Trump in August, which prohibits American companies from importing goods made by North Koreans anywhere in the world. AP also tracked the products made by North Korean workers to Canada, Germany and elsewhere in the European Union.
At Chinese factories, North Korean workers aren't allowed to leave their compounds without permission or their North Korean minders.
The workers are paid a fraction of their salaries, while as much as 70 percent is taken by the North Korean government.
John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute, urged its 300 members to "ensure that wages go to the workers, and are not siphoned off to support a unsafe dictator".
Besides seafood, AP found North Korean labourers making wood flooring and sewing garments in factories in Hunchun.
"Any country that hosts North Korean guest workers, provides any economic or military benefits, or fails to fully implement United Nations security council resolutions is aiding and abetting a risky regime", Tillerson said in July after North Korea's successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
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"The welfare and dignity of workers is very important to us, and we are working in several ways to help combat the use of forced labor in global supply chains", McInnis said in an email. "It's supporting a repressive regime". Some of those companies have already cut off those parts of their supply chains, others said they are investigating the matter.
United Nations sanctions prevent North Korea from obtaining work permits for new workers abroad, but do nothing to constrict the workforce already overseas. "Until early this year, more than 20,000 North Koreans worked in Dandong".
Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA's Korean Service. Then a minder arrived, ordering: "Don't talk to him!"
The AP's investigation adds to a growing saga over some of the appalling conditions workers face in the seafood industry. Ltd., distributed globally by Ocean One Enterprise; Yantai Dachen Hunchun Seafood Products, and Yanbian Shenghai Industry & Trade Co. Ltd.
China ordered a stricter screening process for new visa issuance for North Korean workers while prohibiting visa extensions in mid-September. The other Chinese companies didn't comment.
A rather unusual Associated Press report explaining how fish produced in China and sold in the USA may be generating economic support for North Korea's weapons programs offered rare insight into North Korean slavery.