Without even realizing it, Americans who purchase salmon from two major USA supermarkets may have subsidized North Korea's nuclear weapons program. "We can spot many North Korean workers at Dandong Station and the immigration office waiting to go home".
The report states that seafood from the Hunchun plants was sold to Walmart and also under the Sea Queen brand, which is sold exclusively at Aldi supermarkets. North Korean minders ensure that workers do not have access to phones or email and that workers walk between the dormitory and their jobs in pairs- conditions that many in the USA would refer to as "modern slavery".
They receive a fraction of their salaries, while as much as 70 percent is taken directly by Kim's government.
China's implementation of new sanctions punishing North Korea for its nuclear and missile programs is now "literally expelling North Korean workers", a resident of China's border city of Dandong told RFA's Korean Service on Wednesday. "Many North Korean laborers sent by the government to work overseas under bilateral contracts with foreign governments also face conditions of forced labor ..." That could account for a sizeable portion of North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs, which South Korea says have cost more than $US1 billion.
Every company the AP asked for comment noted that they forbid forced labor.
John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute, the largest seafood trade association in the USA, 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 unsafe dictator".
Some North Koreans work in Russian Federation or the Middle East, but the majority works in China. They said they'd investigate, and some said they'd already cut off ties with suppliers.
"Instead of making the goods in North Korea and trying to export them, which wouldn't work because of sanctions regime, you export the North Koreans", said Former Ambassador to Monitor & Combat Trafficking in Persons Luis CdeBaca. 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.
Seafood can remain in the supply chain for more than a year.
It's illegal for an American company to import products made by North Korean workers anywhere in the world, but the connection with the Chinese companies was only recently uncovered by a team of investigative reporters from The Associated Press, who tracked the products from the factory to the freezer case. 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.