The British government has obtained PPE from factories in China where hundreds of North Korean women have been secretly working in conditions of modern slavery, according to evidence uncovered by The Guardian.
The Guardian findings indicate that hundreds of thousands of protective coveralls ordered from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) come from factories using North Korean labor in the Chinese city of Dandong.
The three-month investigation has also found evidence that North Korean labor is used in factories that export PPE to the United States, Italy, Germany, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Myanmar.
North Korean workers in Dandong, mostly women, are said to work up to 18 hours a day, with little or no time off. They are under constant surveillance and cannot freely leave the factories.
Sources indicate that North Korean workers at PPE factories in Dandong have about 70% of their wages seized by the North Korean state.
“Workers do not have days off. They are not allowed to go out. North Korean [state] controls them. They make money for the country, ”said a factory manager.
The UN has labeled the export of workers to foreign countries by the North Korean regime as state-sponsored forced labor, defined as a form of modern slavery by the International Labor Organization.
The findings suggest that the UK government may have indirectly funneled taxpayer money into the pockets of Kim Jong-un and his brutal regime, of which the UN has said he is guilty “gross and widespread violations of human rights”It amounts to crimes against humanity.
The use of North Korean workers in China violates UN sanctions which were put in place to cut off the income North Korea earned from its overseas workers and other foreign business interests. One of the explicit objectives of the sanctions is to stop foreign export proceeds that are used to support the regime’s banned ballistic and nuclear missile programs. United States sanctions It also prohibits the importation of any product into the United States that is wholly or partially manufactured by North Koreans.
The government has faced increasing criticism for its lack of transparency and accountability in awarding billions of pounds of PPE deals using regulations that allow the award of contracts directly and without public bidding in cases of “extreme urgency”.
“The government should not be using regulations that allow emergency procurement to rush into contracts without even trying to find out if there are risks to workers in supply chains that produce PPE. This lack of due diligence exposes the truth that, far from effectively addressing modern slavery, government policies are allowing for the egregious exploitation of workers, ”said Phil Bloomer, director of the Business and Rights Resource Center. Humans.
Evidence indicates that the shipment of PPE protective coveralls related to North Korean labor was part of a contract awarded by DHSC to Unispace Global Ltd, a UK registered commercial design company, which established a procurement operation for PPE called Unispace Health Ltd shortly after the pandemic began. It is now one of the largest contractors in the UK for the acquisition of EPI.
According to documentation seen by The Guardian, the order passed through a Chinese trading company before part of it was outsourced to Dandong Huayang Textiles and Garments Co Ltd, a large garment factory in Dandong, which shares some of its orders with a factory branch. Both factories appear to be using workers from North Korea.
There is no indication that DHSC or Unispace Global Ltd knew that North Korean labor could be present in their PPE supply chains.
Unispace Global Ltd did not respond to multiple requests for comment on The Guardian’s findings.
Shipping to the UK represents only a fraction of the PPE made by Dandong factories, which appear to use North Korean workers. In April 200,000 sterilized monkeys land in Bari, Italy, in boxes marked with the distinctive Dandong Huayang brand. A distributor in South Africa advertised two million protective suits from the same company, and smaller orders were found in the United States, Germany, South Korea and Japan.
The Guardian found that two other factories in Dandong that are believed to use North Korean workers have manufactured PPE for customers in the United States and the Philippines.
Located on the banks of the Yalu River in northeast China, which forms the border with North Korea, Dandong clothing manufacturers have been hiring workers of the totalitarian state for years.
It’s a mutually beneficial deal, in which Chinese factories get cheap and compliant labor and the North Korean regime receives millions of dollars in return.
As the pandemic spread around the world at the beginning of the year, garment manufacturers in Dandong quickly began converting their clothing production lines to insulating gowns and protective overalls. Fourteen Dandong companies have registered medical protective equipment products with the US Food and Drug Administration in 2020.
The shift to the PPE was coordinated and supported by the local and provincial government, according to documents and reports on government and business websites.
“Dandong has become a global center for gown and coverall production because they already have cheap labor from North Korea. The production of gowns is labor intensive, so in Dandong they can be produced at the lowest cost and with the highest profits, ”said Seung-jae Kim, South Korean author of two books on North Korean workers abroad.
More than 21 million pieces of PPE were produced by factories in and around the city between January and July this year, according to a post on the Dandong government website, making it a lucrative year for owners of factories in the city. “We are all going to make millions,” said one.
On paper, workers earn between 2,200 and 2,800 yuan a month (£ 240- £ 310), but they only see a fraction of that. Instead, it is picked up by the North Korean worker manager, who passes the majority to the North Korean state. “Workers receive a few hundred [yuan]”Said the head of the factory.
Despite this, the wages workers can keep are still more than they could hope to earn in North Korea, creating a huge demand for overseas work from the impoverished population.
Remco Breuker, professor of Korean Studies at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, says that despite this, the arrangement remains a form of forced labor.
“Workers are not free to refuse work, resign, use their free time, if they have any, however they want, socialize freely and are not paid enough, or in extreme cases, not at all.” he said.
In a statement, the DHSC said: “We expect all NHS providers to follow the highest legal and ethical standards and that due diligence is conducted for all government contracts.”
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