HUNCHUN, China — The workers wake up each morning on metal bunk beds in fluorescent-lit Chinese dormitories, North Koreans outsourced by their government to process seafood that ends up in American stores and homes.


Privacy is forbidden. They cannot leave their compounds without permission. They must take the few steps to the factories in pairs or groups, with North Korean minders ensuring no one strays. They have no access to telephones or email. And they are paid a fraction of their salaries, while the rest — as much as 70 percent — is taken by North Korea’s government.


This means Americans buying salmon for dinner at Walmart or ALDI may have inadvertently subsidized the North Korean government as it builds its nuclear weapons program, an AP investigation has found. Their purchases may also have supported what the United States calls “modern day slavery” — even if the jobs are highly coveted by North Koreans.

Model and Property Released (MR&PR)

Americans buying salmon for dinner may have inadvertently subsidized the North Korean government as it builds its nuclear weapons program, an AP investigation has found.

(Juanmonino/Getty Images)


At a time when North Korea faces sanctions on many exports, the government is sending tens of thousands of workers worldwide, bringing in revenue estimated at anywhere from $200 million to $500 million a year. That could account for a sizable portion of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, which South Korea says have cost more than $1 billion.

Sea lice surge is damaging the salmon industry


While the presence of North Korean workers overseas has been documented, the AP investigation reveals for the first time that some products they make go to the United States, which is now a federal crime. AP also tracked the products made by North Korean workers to Canada, Germany and elsewhere in the European Union.

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north korea
european union
china
south korea
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