N. Korean workers process seafood in China for U.S. stores, restaurants

N. Korean workers process seafood in China for U.S. stores, restaurants

Without even realizing it, Americans who purchase salmon from two major US supermarkets may have subsidized North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

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.

Workers at the plant are not allowed to leave the compounds without permission and have no access to telephones or email. They sleep in metal bunks and work 72-hour weeks processing fish for as little as 46 cents an hour, because Pyongyang keeps somewhere between half and 70 percent of their pay.

Roughly 3,000 North Koreans are believed to work in Hunchun, which is on the border with North Korea and Russian Federation.

North Koreans outsourced by their government are preparing seafood in China that ends up in American stores and homes, the report said. Workers exported by North Korea are exploited for $200 million to $500 million per year that goes back to the regime.

Analysts say the security of North Korea's missiles and nuclear, chemical and biological weapons would be a chief priority for China in the event of a major crisis involving its communist neighbor.

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Western companies involved that responded to AP said forced labor and potential support for North Korea was unacceptable in their supply chains.

John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute, the largest seafood trade association in the United States, told AP his group was urging all of its companies to immediately re-examine their supply chains "to ensure that wages go to the workers, and are not siphoned off to support a risky dictator".

United Nations sanctions prevent North Korea from obtaining work permits for new workers abroad, but do nothing to constrict the workforce already overseas. Aldi in Australia said it does not source any products from the factories in question. "And they all promised they were going to take action and, as of today, I'm hearing many are simply cutting off these suppliers", Mendoza says.

What's less clear is whether and under what conditions China would commit troops as an occupying force should North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's regime fall apart, Mr. Cheng said.

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

Information for this article was contributed by Martha Mendoza, Leonardo Haberkorn, Han Guan Ng, Fu Ting, Kelvin K. Chan, Frank Jordans and Jon Gambrell of The Associated Press.

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