Despite increased pressure from the U.S. and the UN Security Council, human rights groups estimate about 16 countries still host North Korean laborers. A recent estimate by the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul puts the number of North Korean workers overseas at around 147,000. Most work in China and Russia, but reports continue to surface of North Korean workers even in EU countries.
In Poland for instance, a recent New York Times report found North Korean workers in a number of industries, including agriculture, the manufacture of shipping containers, and even ship construction. The report also includes the names of companies – Armex (reportedly linked to a UN sanctioned company called Rungrado General Trading) and Wonye – that have allegedly been involved in supplying such workers.
It was not until October 2017 that the EU agreed to stop renewing work permits for North Korean labor. However, media reports indicate local governments in Poland continued to approve such permits after the EU’s decision. New legislation took effect in Poland on January 1, 2018, barring new foreign worker permits in Poland, but there is reportedly little coordination between provincial governments and the national government on these permits.
The increased focus on imports produced by North Korean labor in third countries – now subject to exclusion from the United States, as well as exposing U.S. persons to OFAC sanctions – creates a need for enhanced due diligence in supply chain operations. Reports like these can help companies identify such products and transactions, something that is generally very difficult to do.