Modern slavery in the heart of Europe

The fact that the North Korean government sends its citizen abroad to work is well known. Currently there are approx. 65.000 North Koreans working as labourers outside of their country1.

In many cases, countries hosting these foreign workers do not respect labour rights and workers can find themselves in disastrous working and living conditions, which includes exploitation and in severe cases forms of forced labour. Until recently it was thought that these types of issues could not take place in Europe.

According to the German radio channel Deutschlandfunk, Vietnamese, Chinese and North Korean workers are being exploited in a Maltese textile factory, ‘Leisure Clothings’, which produces luxury goods for brands like Armani 2 .

Instead of receiving the mandatory minimum wage of 700€ per month, the workers are paid 75€ for working 14 hours a day, with only one free day every two weeks.

The workers are usually sent by state-run agencies in their respective countries. Leisure Clothings is a subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned enterprise CICET3, therefore the North Koreans are transferred to the Maltese factory by Chinese intermediaries.

According to newspaper articles, currently there are around 1.000 North Koreans who are exploited in countries within the European Union. In addition to Malta, Polish companies have also been accused of using forced labour4 .

The workers have close to no chance to defend themselves. Leaving the situation to return home is not a possibility, as their passports are often removed from them for ‘safekeeping’ and not returned.

The North Korean government has no interest in stopping the exploitation of its citizens, partly as the incoming foreign currency is much appreciated. About 90% of the wages are transferred directly to the North Korean state. The regime is making hundreds of million Euros every year with that procedure4.

Slowly an opposition is building against the exploitation. A few Vietnamese workers have consulted a lawyer and are taking Leisure Clothing to court. No North Koreans are among the plaintiffs, they fear backlashes for their families back in North Korea.

  1. http://www.nknews.org/2015/01/twelve-north-koreans-to-work-in-factory-in-europe/, 14.01.2015, aufgerufen am 18.01.2016 []
  2. http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/nordkoreanische-arbeiter-auf-malta-sklavenartige-zustaende.1773.de.html?dram:article_id=342614, 16.01.2016, aufgerufen am 18.01.2015 []
  3. http://www.leisureclothingmalta.com/history.html, 2016, aufgerufen am 18.01.2016 []
  4. http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150930/local/malta-urged-to-investigate-use-of-north-korean-forced-labour.586458, 30.09.2015, aufgerufen am 18.01.2016 [] []
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