Gulag Inc: The Use of Forced Labor in North Korea’s Export Industries

by Kim Kwang-jin, Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, May 2016.

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This report discusses at length the use of forced labor in North Korea’s export industries. Coal, iron ore, copper and other commodities are mined to earn hard foreign currency for the state.

In 2013, coal and mineral resources constituted half of North Korea’s total exports. At first glance, this state-run mining industry may appear to be a legitimate means for the North Korean government to earn money, mainly from China. Yet, as this report documents, North Korea’s mining industry uses and abuses individuals who are forced to work in mines under extremely harsh conditions. These individuals are systematically marginalized and discriminated against, cannot enter the institutions of power, including the Party, government, or the military. They are placed at extreme disadvantage in all walks of life, and their labor is exploited to maintain production and export the state’s underground resources.

The report also provides an overview of North Korea’s mining industry, detailing the geographic distribution and production levels of mineral resources. It outlines the command structure of ministries and highlights North Korea’s national system that manages, allocates, and mobilises labour for the mining sector.

Finally, this report emphasises the relationship that the mining industry has with the state’s penal system, including the political prison camps that are a long-standing part of the country’s mining operations.

Ultimately the report concludes that the coal and minerals exported from North Korea are produced with forced and slave labourers, and calls for countries importing North Korea’s mining resources, in addition to countries and businesses directly investing in North Korea’s mining operations, to demand that North Korea shut down its gulags, end its state-sponsored forced and slave labor, and adhere to internationally accepted industry standards.

Read the full report here.