North Korea Pocketing Billions From Forced Labor Overseas: U.N. Investigator

More than 50,000 North Koreans are working abroad in conditions akin to forced labor while their government reaps the financial benefits, a U.N. investigator has said.

Marzuki Darusman, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea revealed the findings of his investigation to the General Assembly and reporters at a press conference on Wednesday. Darusman said that tens of thousands of North Koreans are being sent abroad to work by the government, a process that flouts rules set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which does not permit forced labor.

Calling on the Security Council to refer the country's human rights abuses to the International Criminal Court, Darusman detailed how some North Korean workers are forced to work 20 hour days, with only one or two days off in a month. Citing reports from civil society organizations he said that while the workers received between $120-$150 per month on average, their employers paid "significantly higher amounts" directly to the North Korean government.

Jobs are given out according to the worker's state-assigned social class and that those in the lower classes are often given the most dangerous tasks. Ex-workers also reported that despite being abroad, they were kept under constant surveillance.

Darusman found evidence that suggests North Korean workers are often the most exploited and lowest paid among migrant workers. The majority of the workers are sent to China and Russia and work in the construction, textile, mining and logging industries, although Darusman also said North Korean workers are reportedly working in countries across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

As part of his address, Darusman reiterated the findings of a 2012 report, published by the International Network for the Human Rights of North Korean Overseas Labor, that claimed North Korea earnt between $1.2 billion and $2.3 billion a year from its foreign workers. Darusman accused the North Korean government of exploiting its people as a way of remedying its "really tight financial and economic situation."

However, Darusman also said that there were reports that North Koreans who remain in the country are slowly becoming less reliant on the oppressive regime. "We are hearing credible reports about small businesses being established, small plots, gardening and farming activities, the beginnings of a property market, the widespread use of mobile phones, the illegal imports of South Korean pop music and videos and a host of other issues that gives an image that incremental changes are taking place in the North," he said.