m a r k a n d e y a

L.A. Times: NK “Slave Labor” in the Czech Republic

Posted by Brian on December 29, 2005

Via the Chosun Ilbo, Barbara Demick of the L.A. Times writes on the plight of North Korean women toiling away in the Czech Republic:

The schoolhouse is now a factory producing uniforms. Almost all the workers are North Korean, and the women initially looked delighted to see visitors. It gets lonely working out here, thousands of miles from home. They crowded around to chat.

“I’m not so happy here. There is nobody who speaks my language. I’m so far from home,” volunteered a tentative young woman in a T-shirt and sweatpants who said she was from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

But as she spoke, an older woman with stern posture and an expressionless face — a North Korean security official — passed by in the corridor. The young women scattered wordlessly and disappeared into another room, closing and bolting the door behind them.

Hundreds of young North Korean women are working in garment and leather factories like this one, easing a labor shortage in small Czech towns. Their presence in this recent member of the European Union is something of a throwback to before the Velvet Revolution of 1989, when Prague, like Pyongyang, was a partner in the Communist bloc.

The North Korean government keeps most of the earnings, apparently one of the few legal sources of hard currency for an isolated and impoverished government believed to be living off counterfeiting, drug trafficking and weapons sales. Experts estimate that there are 10,000 to 15,000 North Koreans working abroad in behalf of their government in jobs ranging from nursing to construction work. In addition to the Czech Republic, North Korea has sent workers to Russia, Libya, Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia and Angola, defectors say.

Almost the entire monthly salary of each of the women here, about $260, the Czech minimum wage, is deposited directly into an account controlled by the North Korean government, which gives the workers only a fraction of the money.

To the extent that they are allowed outside, they go only in groups. Often they are accompanied by a guard from the North Korean Embassy who is referred to as their “interpreter.” They live under strict surveillance in dormitories with photographs of North Korea’s late founder Kim Il Sung and current leader Kim Jong Il gracing the walls. Their only entertainment is propaganda films and newspapers sent from North Korea, and occasional exercise in the yard outside.

“This is 21st century slave labor,” said Kim Tae San, a former official of the North Korean Embassy in Prague. He helped set up the factories in 1998 and served as president of one of the shoe factories until he defected to South Korea in 2002.

North Korea proves once again that those who do business with it only end up sullying their own reputation. The Czech Republic should be ashamed for letting the Kim regime export its abominable practices to Czech land.

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2 Responses to “L.A. Times: NK “Slave Labor” in the Czech Republic”

  1. I totally agree with you.
    An excellent but disturbing post.
    Take care

  2. slim said

    Seems like the workers make more in the Czech Repub than they would at Kaesung.

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