As a consequence of U.S. and UN sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea), companies increasingly need to coordinate compliance efforts across the typically distinct worlds of economic sanctions and import/customs compliance. This is particularly necessary with respect to identifying, and mitigating the risk of DPRK-related labor in supply chains. Below, we summarize first the expanded scope of UN restrictions on the DPRK, including the prohibition on the use of DPRK labor, and then second, how those rules have been implemented and expanded in the United States in increasingly complex ways.

Part I:    United Nations Restrictions:

The United Nations has maintained limited sanctions on North Korea for years, but in 2017 it expanded those sanctions in a number of material ways.  Of relevance to this analysis, the UN Security Council (UNSC) reached a determination that all DPRK labor outside of North Korea poses a high forced labor-related risk.  As a result, the UNSC first required that all new work visas for DPRK citizens be approved by the UNSC, before expanding that restriction in December 2017 (UNSCR 2397) to require all UN Member States to repatriate all DPRK workers currently employed in their territory “immediately but not later than 24 months” (i.e., December 2019).  Therefore, for example Chinese and Taiwanese companies could currently employ DPRK citizens, but they will be required to reduce that employment and ultimately curtail it, or risk violation of UN resolutions.

Part II:   U.S. Restrictions:

In parallel, the United States has implemented a growing array of restrictions that also target DPRK labor.  Below, we summarize the relevant (a) U.S. sanctions prohibiting transactions with the DPRK and (b) a parallel set of import requirements presumptively prohibiting products manufactured with DPRK nationals in the supply chain:

(1) U.S. Sanctions on the DPRK:

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) has maintained a comprehensive embargo on the DPRK since 2017 and more limited restrictions for decades. Today, OFAC prohibits the export of any goods or services to the DPRK  and any transactions with the Government of North Korea or the Workers Party of North Korea.  OFAC generally considers a transaction with a DPRK national ordinarily resident in the DPRK to be prohibited as an indirect export of a service to the DPRK.

Importantly, for this analysis, OFAC also prohibits the importation of any goods or services from the DPRK, even items with only a de minimis percentage DPRK content (e.g., a $10,000 widget produced in Russia with a $2 North Korean origin part would be considered North Korean origin and prohibited entry into the United States).

Over the last few months, we have seen that OFAC has aggressively expanded its enforcement of these provisions, including designation of persons involved in DPRK trade, and issuing advisories to the shipping community about DPRK risks in the supply chain.  See https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm458; https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Documents/dprk_vessel_advisory_02232018.pdf; and https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/dprk_supplychain_advisory_07232018.pdf.

(2) DPRK-Related Import Prohibitions:

In parallel, since August 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) has maintained a North Korean related import restriction.  Specifically, pursuant to Section 321(b) of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (“CAATSA”), CBP utilizes a presumption that any “significant goods, wares, articles, and merchandise mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part by the labor of North Korean nationals or citizens” is produced through forced labor and therefore is prohibited for entry into the United States.  The presumption can be rebutted only through “clear and convincing” evidence that the DPRK nationals are not forced labor (e.g., a demonstration that they are asylees or refugees in a third country).  To assist importers in meeting their “reasonable care” obligation to ensure that goods entering the United States meet these new provisions, the Department of Homeland Security has published CAATSA Section 321(b) Guidance on due diligence steps importers can take, while CBP has noted that the seafood industry presents a high risk of DPRK nationals.  See e.g., https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/spotlights/cbp-leads-delegation-thailand-discusses-forced-labor-concerns-fishing-industry.

Part III: Significant Points for Importers, Exporters and U.S. Companies

The net result of the overlap of the above restrictions is:

  • All U.S. and non-U.S. companies are prohibited to grant new work permits to DPRK nationals, except DPRK nationals seeking an asylum or refugee status.
  • U.S. companies are prohibited under U.S. sanctions law from directly or indirectly exporting goods or services to the DPRK, including transacting with persons ordinarily resident in the DPRK.
  • U.S. companies are prohibited under U.S. sanctions to import any products produced in whole or in part (no matter how small the percentage) with DPRK origin material into the United States.
  • All products manufactured in whole, or in part, with DPRK national labor are presumptively considered to be produced with forced labor and are therefore prohibited to enter the United States, unless the importer can demonstrate through “clear and convincing” evidence that the DPRK nationals were not forced labor (e.g., by demonstrating they are asylum seekers).