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

Yu Vongkiatajorn

Yu Vongkiatajorn

USA companies aren't allowed to import products made by North Korean workers under a law signed by President Donald Trump in August. Among the affected products is seafood distributed by the Fishin' Company (a Walmart supplier), Sea-Trek Enterprises (a Rhode Island company that sells to supermarkets and food-service companies in the USA and dozens of other countries), and Sea Queen (a brand exclusive to Aldi, which is now up to 1,600 locations in 35 states). "Many North Korean laborers sent by the government to work overseas under bilateral contracts with foreign governments also face conditions of forced labor ..." And now that it is facing more stricter sanctions, practices like these are expected to grow. John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute, told AP, "While we understand that hiring North Korean workers may be legal in China, we are deeply concerned that any seafood companies could be inadvertently propping up the despotic regime".

At Chinese factories, North Korean workers aren't allowed to leave their compounds without permission or their North Korean minders.

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Every Western company involved that responded to AP's requests for comment said forced labor and potentially supporting North Korea's weapons program was unacceptable in their supply chains. Many pledged to investigate, others said they already cut ties with some suppliers. They work construction in the Gulf, build ships in Poland, log in Russian Federation, and crew fishing vessels in Uruguay. New U.N. sanctions bar countries from expanding their North Korean workforce. Workers' salaries are appropriated and deposited into accounts controlled by the North Korean government. The scene along the China-North Korea border provides some clues.

AP reporters followed the seafood those workers package, and discovered over 2,000 tons of snow crab, salmon, squid, and other fish had entered the US and Canadian food supply this year alone. 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.

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Seafood can remain in the supply chain for more than a year.

They work in factories within China - packing fish for sale in household name stores such as Aldi and Walmart. Customs records indicate that Chicken of the Sea, owned by Thai Union, did business with sister companies of the Hunchun factories in another part of China.

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"It's really up to US Customs and Border Protection to enforce laws that make it a crime to import products of forced labor".

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