Universiteit Leiden

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How North Korea forces labourers to work in Poland

Leiden researchers discovered that North Korean labourers are being forced to work on a large scale in Poland. Professor of Korea Studies Remco Breuker will present a report on the abuses in Poland at the ‘Slaves To The System’ conference on 6 July.

Less likelihood of defecting

Breuker's research team discovered that three-quarters of the 500 to 800 forced labourers belong to the higher party echelons in North Korea. Breuker: ‘The regime deploys people that they trust not to defect.'

Names of Polish employers released

At the conference in Leiden Breuker's team will reveal the names of the 32 Polish companies - including major shipbuilders and market garden companies - that use clever employment constructs so they can employ North Koreans. The construction benefits both countries: Poland gets cheap, hard-working labourers and North Korea needs foreign currency. The researchers discovered that a number of the shipping companies involved receive subsidies from the EU.

Questions in the European Parliament

Breuker published the first research findings in May of this year. Politicians and human rights organisations worldwide were shocked at this revelation. Agnes Jongerius of the Dutch Labour Party asked questions in the European Parliament, but there has so far been no official response from the European Commission.

Export oppressive regime

Breuker's research team is made up of Korea experts, human rights specialists and experts on employment law. At the conference, for which anyone can register, the researchers will explain the conditions under which these North Koreans live. They are forced to attend propaganda meetings and have to send almost all their salary to the North Korean state. Breuker: ‘It is alarming to discover that North Korea can simply export its oppressive regime to a European country.'

Forced labour in other European countries?

At the conference the report will be presented to North Korean dissident Jang Jin-sung, until recently visiting professor in Leiden. The research was carried out under the auspices of and with funding from the Leiden Asia Centre at Leiden University. The team is still investigating whether North Korean labourers are also working under similar conditions in other European countries.  

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