1 in 10 North Koreans are forced into modern day slavery, human-rights study estimates

Feng Li/Getty ImagesPeople look out the window of a bus on April 2, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea.
  • One in every 10 people living in North Korea are forced into modern slavery, used to prop up the repressive regime and keep its population under tight control.
  • According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index compiled by the Walk Free Foundation, more than 2.6 million people in North Korea are subjected to forced labour and exploitation by the state.
  • The foundation interviewed 50 defectors from North Korea, many of whom indicated they had not been paid or were subject to state-sanctioned pay deductions.
  • Walk Free Foundation’s executive director of global research Fiona David told Business Insider that the data should be taken into account when engaging with North Korea.

One in every 10 people living in North Korea are forced into forms of slavery, which is used to prop up the repressive regime and keep the country’s population under tight control, according to a new report.

The 2018 Global Slavery Index, compiled by the Walk Free Foundation, found that modern-day slavery is most prevalent in North Korea and other repressive regimes, though developed nations also played a role by importing $US354 billion worth of goods produced as a result of forced labour.

According to the report, more than 2.6 million out of North Korea’s 25 million inhabitants are subjected to modern slavery, the highest proportion of a single country’s population worldwide. Most were forced to work with no guarantee of compensation.

Globally, the report estimates some 40.3 million people are trapped in modern slave conditions, which are broadly defined as forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, slavery and “slavery-like practices,” and human trafficking.

The Walk Free Foundation is an Australia-based organisation dedicated to monitoring and ending various forms of slavery worldwide and spurring global action to that effect. It was founded by the billionaire Australian mining mogul Andrew Forrest.

Defectors say North Korea forces its people to work, often without pay

North korean waitressFeng Li/Getty ImagesA North Korean waitress prepares the food in the kitchen during a official reception on April 2, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea.

The regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un uses several different methods to impose slavery on its people.

The Walk Free Foundation interviewed 50 North Korean defectors – 27 women and 23 men – who left the North sometime between 2011 and 2016. All described work in North Korea as centrally organised by the ruling party, and many indicated they had either not been paid, or their pay was subjected to state-held deductions.

Some interviewees reported that children and adults were forced to work unpaid through “communal labour” in agriculture or construction. Adults were sometimes forced to work 70 to 100 days in a row, and faced punishment or decreased food rations if they disobeyed orders.

Defectors also described labour training camps – essentially state-run prisons – where citizens who were unemployed for more than 15 days were sent to perform hard labour, usually for a minimum of six months.

Even absence from work is not permitted, and could result in harsh punishment.

“If you are absent without an excuse, you are detained in a labour training camp,” a male defector said, according to the report.

Two defectors spoke of “shock brigades” also known as “stormtroopers” – groups of typically very poor men and women who were forced to perform heavy labour, often in construction, for years at a time.

One female defector said her monthly work salary was used to fund forced labour. “I did not receive compensation,” she said. “From my workplace, they were taking money to support shock brigades and as a result of deducting such an amount from our salaries we did not receive any money.”

The number of people subjected to forms of slavery in North Korea has more than doubled

North Korean defector MongoliaBryan Chan/Los Angeles Times via Getty ImagesA North Korean defector anxiously awaits his departure from a safe house in northeast China.

The number of slaves in North Korea has jumped from 1.1 million to more than 2.6 million.

The jump in numbers is largely due to new data available through a collaboration with the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) Committee of Experts, along with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Walk Free Foundation’s executive director of global research Fiona David told Business Insider in an email.

The ILO took special interest in cases involving state-imposed forced labour, and applied newfound data to validated sources, David said, resulting in larger numbers than previously known.

The Walk Free Foundation has called on governments and businesses to prioritise human-rights when engaging with repressive regimes, particularly in light of President Donald Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un in June.

David emphasised how important it is for countries to adhere to financial and trade restrictions imposed on North Korea.

“Any trade, business or investment conducted with repressive regimes should be closely monitored to ensure it is not contributing to or benefiting from modern slavery,” he said.

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