The State Department released its annual report on human trafficking Tuesday. This year the report downgrades China to tier 3, the lowest rating level, in part because of China’s complicity in the use of forced labor by North Korea on its soil.
The new report was presented by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Ivanka Trump at the State Department. Sec. Tillerson pointed out that North Korean forced labor was helping to pay for the country’s missile programs which could soon threaten the United States. “North Korea…depends on forced labor to generate illicit sources of revenue,” Tillerson said. He continued, “An estimated 50,000 to 80,000 North Koreans citizens are working overseas as forced labor, primarily in Russia and China.” The wages owed these workers are paid directly to the North Korean government, which totals millions of dollars.
“China was downgraded to Tier 3 status in this year’s report in part because it has not taken serious steps to end its own complicity in trafficking, including forced laborers from North Korea that are located in China,” Tillerson said. He called on China to send North Korean forced laborers home.
Vice news did a video report in 2011 documenting North Korean logging camps in Siberia. North Korean laborers were sent to Siberia and forced to work for 3-10 years before being allowed to return home. A Radio Free Asia report from 2015 describes North Korean workers who are sent to China and work 12-14 hour days preparing fish and shellfish. All of their wages were confiscated by the North Korean government:
Daehung, a company based in North Korea’s coastal Rason Special Economic Zone, had contracted with the Chinese firm to pay each worker 800 yuan (U.S.$126) per month along with room and board, but then promised the workers only 300 yuan (U.S.$47) of that amount, the source said.
Now, even that reduced amount is not being paid, he said.
“They have no salary at all,” he said.
“They work for 12 to 14 hours a day and are allowed only day off each month, but they can travel back to North Korea by bus on their days off.”
The Trump administration has been clear that it wants China to act more forcefully to control North Korea’s behavior. Cutting off slave labor which serves as a major source of funding for the regime would certainly help to do that, though the report itself doesn’t focus on U.S. political goals. The report cites additional reasons for China’s downgrade:
Human rights organizations and media continued to report local officials in Xinjiang coerced Uighur men and women to participate in forced labor in and outside the province, despite the local government issuing a notice in early 2017 the practice had been completely abolished. The government convicted fewer sex and labor traffickers compared to the previous reporting period. Authorities continued to forcibly repatriate North Koreans, where they faced severe punishment including forced labor and execution, without screening them for indicators of trafficking.
Here is Sec. Tillerson’s speech introducing the report. He is followed by presidential adviser Ivanka Trump who made a brief speech about this year’s report: