Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper is reporting that the North Korean government has dispatched tens of thousands of laborers to China, one of the few ways the government can earn hard currency.
Most surprising, reportedly “it is largely enterprises owned by South Korean and U.S. businesses that are tapping the cheap labor pool.”
According to the article, the North Korean government polices the workers. They are not allowed to go out freely even on days off.
The government takes roughly a third of their wages, leaving them with a monthly take-home pay of about 1,000 yuan (13,000 yen or $147).
The laborers include hundreds employed at an economic development zone in Tumen, Jilin province. Most of the women living in the zone work for South Korean companies making clothes and precision instruments.
Meanwhile, in a rural city in Liaoning province, about 50 young North Korean women were seen laboring alongside elderly Chinese women at a seafood processing plant owned by a Chinese company.
And in Dalian, Liaoning province, North Korean laborers make sportswear and down jackets for sale to foreign companies.
The newspaper quotes estimates of about 20,000 to 40,000 North Koreans are currently working in the country, most of them in border areas, saying China and North Korea have agreed to increase the number eventually to 120,000. This number is consistent with reporting by Barbara Demick of the Los Angeles Times.