More than 50,000 North Koreans forced to work abroad: UN

United Nations, October 29

More than 50,000 North Koreans have been sent to work abroad, mainly in Russia and China, in conditions that a UN rights expert said on Wednesday amounted to forced labour.

UN Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman said Pyongyang was increasingly resorting to exporting its workers to earn hard currency, which he estimated at between $1.2 billion and $2.3 billion per year.

Darusman detailed the plight of North Koreans working abroad in his annual report to the General Assembly, which this year again is set to adopt a resolution condemning Pyongyang’s rights record.

“DPRK nationals have been sent to work in many parts of the world, labouring under conditions that amount to a subjection to forced labour, both by their own and host governments,” Darusman, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), told a news conference on Wednesday.

Scaling up UN attention on North Korea’s foreign workers, Darusman warned in his report that companies that hire them ‘become complicit in an unacceptable system of forced labour’. He said the overseas workers are mainly employed in construction, mining, logging and textile industries, and are kept in the dark about their contracts, negotiated by Pyongyang.

The vast majority of North Korean foreign workers are employed in Russia and China, but the rapporteur’s report also listed 15 other countries, including Algeria, Angola, Kuwait and Poland.

A construction company in Qatar this year sent back 90 North Koreans whose supervisors forced them to work more than 12 hours a day and underfed them. One of the workers died from the appalling treatment, said the report, to be discussed at the General Assembly this week.

Overall, there has been no improvement in the dire human rights situation in North Korea, Darusman said.