North Korean workers in China are processing seafood that ends up for sale in American stores, an Associated Press report published Wednesday revealed. North Korea takes up to 70 percent of the wages its workers make overseas, and uses the money to prop up the regime and its $1 billion nuclear weapons program. South Korea estimates that the nuclear program is worth more than $1 billion.
American importers who use North Korean products could potentially find themselves facing criminal charges: Importing products made by North Korean workers anywhere in the world is a federal crime, following a new law signed by President Trump in early August.
North Korean workers make clothing and numerous other products in Chinese factories. Plants in Hunchun were found using North Korean workers.
With tensions between the USA and North Korea running high and relations between Beijing and Pyongyang at a historic low, questions are being raised about how China might respond in the event of a regime collapse.
"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 unsafe regime", Tillerson said in July after North Korea's successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Every Western company involved that responded to AP's requests for comment said forced labor and potential support for North Korea's weapons program were unacceptable in their supply chains. A Walmart rep says they learned about this whole fiasco in an audit "a year go", and chose to ban Hunchun fish at some indefinite subsequent date.
John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute, urged its 300 members, including the largest seafood importers in the US, to "ensure that wages go to the workers and are not siphoned off to support a risky dictator". The scene along the China-North Korea border provides some clues. "It's supporting a repressive regime".
United Nations sanctions prevent North Korea from obtaining work permits for new workers abroad, but do nothing to constrict the workforce already overseas.
Despite AP seeing North Korean workers, Hunchun Dongyang's manager Zhu Qizhen denied that they hire them and refused to give details.
Seafood can remain in the supply chain for more than a year.
"Combating forced labour is a complex problem that no one company, industry, or government can tackle alone", she said.
Per the AP's report, some brands of salmon found in Walmart and ALDI stores was linked to North Korean workers based in China.