North Korean Workers Wear 'Brave Face' on Forced Return From China

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There's really no way to know, as a consumer, which products are linked to North Korean workers.

Some of the packaging on the seafood was branded in China with familiar names such as Walmart or Sea Queen, a seafood brand sold exclusively in the ALDI supermarket chain, which has 1,600 stores across 35 states. North Korean minders ensure that workers do not have access to phones or email and that workers walk between the dormitory and their jobs in pairs- conditions that many in the USA would refer to as "modern slavery".

"Returning workers never looked like this in the past, so it's easy to think they've been told to do this in advance", the source said, adding that he often sees North Korean workers passing through Chinese maritime customs on their way home.

There are about 3,000 North Koreans working in the city of Hunchun. North Korea makes up to $500 million a year by shipping citizens overseas to work as dirt-cheap laborers.

Securing North Korea's missile launchers and nuclear, chemical and biological weapons sites would likely be a chief priority for China in the event of a major crisis involving its communist neighbour, analysts say, although Beijing so far is keeping mum on any plans.

Western companies involved that responded to AP said forced labor and potential support for North Korea was unacceptable in their supply chains. A Walmart rep says they learned about this whole fiasco in an audit "a year go", and made a decision to ban Hunchun fish at some indefinite subsequent date.

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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".

It's illegal for an American company to import products made by North Korean workers anywhere in the world, but the connection with the Chinese companies was only recently uncovered by a team of investigative reporters from The Associated Press, who tracked the products from the factory to the freezer case.

China ordered a stricter screening process for new visa issuance for North Korean workers while prohibiting visa extensions in mid-September. New U.N. sanctions bar countries from expanding their North Korean workforce. There's no way to say where a particular package ends up, nor what percentage of a factory's products wind up in the U.S.

Spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said: "Combating forced labour is a complex problem that no one company, industry, or government can tackle alone".

Some U.S. companies had indirect ties to North Korean laborers in Hunchun.

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