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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

US is still trading with North Korea despite sanctions

Seafood processed by North Koreans in Chinese factories on sale in the US, Canada and Europe

North Korean workers at this seafood processing plant in Hunchin, Jilin province in north-eastern China, wear blue overalls to distinguish them from Chinese workers. province.  Ng Han Guan / AP
North Korean workers at this seafood processing plant in Hunchin, Jilin province in north-eastern China, wear blue overalls to distinguish them from Chinese workers. province. Ng Han Guan / AP

Most Americans may not realise it, but the US is breaking its own trade embargo with North Korea.

An investigation by the Associated Press has discovered that North Korean workers process seafood that ends up on supermarket shelves in the United States, Canada and the European Union, and a big chunk of their salaries is taken by the North Korean government as it continues to develop nuclear weapons capable of striking the US.

At a time when North Korea faces sanctions on many exports, it sends of tens of thousands of workers around the world bringing revenue back into the country to the value of anywhere from $200 million to $500 million. That could account for a sizeable portion of its nuclear weapons and missile programmes, which South Korea says has cost well over $1 billion.

Shipping records show more than 100 cargo containers of seafood totalling more than 2,000 tons were sent to the US and Canada this year from the Chinese factories that employ North Koreans. The workers wear overalls of a different colour to distinguish them from Chinese employees. They are closely watched, lack basic freedoms and keep little of the money they earn.

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. Other packages have markings from major German chains.

A law signed by President Donald Trump in August forbids American companies to to import products made by North Korean workers anywhere in the world. Every Western company involved that agreed to comment said forced labour and potential support for North Korea's weapons programme were unacceptable in their supply chains. Many said they were going to investigate, and some said they had already cut off ties with suppliers.

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