North Korean employees work in a factory of a South Korean company at the Joint Industrial Park in Kaesong industrial zone
North Korean employees work in a factory of a South Korean company at the Joint Industrial Park in Kaesong industrial zone, a few miles inside North Korea from the heavily fortified border on December 19, 2013.  Kim Hong-Ji—Reuters

50,000 North Koreans Work Overseas in Slave-Like Conditions, U.N. Official Says

Oct 29, 2015

North Korea has sent tens of thousands of its people to countries around the world to work in conditions that amount to modern slavery, according to a U.N. researcher who monitors human rights in the totalitarian state.

The researcher, Indonesian lawyer Markuzi Darusman, said that 50,000 North Korean laborers are currently stationed in countries across Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa — with a high percentage in Russia and China — where they will sometimes work 20-hour days while provided with inadequate food, minimal time off and a monthly paycheck of only $120 to $150. They work primarily in the mining, construction and logging industries, assigned to the more dangerous tasks.

Meanwhile, the North Korean government turns a profit. Though U.N. sanctions have further suffocated the country's anemic economy, the forced labor of its people brings in between $1.2 billion and $2.3 billion each year. (Employers pay the state a premium in exchange for the cheap labor it provides.)

Darusman maintains the matter should be tried in the International Criminal Court, though Russia and China, permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and among North Korea's few tenuous allies, would likely veto such an effort.

[Associated Press]

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Aug. 26, 2011. A North Korean woman looks down at the city of Pyongyang from the top of the Tower of the Juche Idea.
Aug. 26, 2011. A North Korean woman looks down at the city of Pyongyang from the top of the Tower of the Juche Idea.David Guttenfelder—AP
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