Brexit: Who'll Do Your Job Now? Channel 4 Dispatches
More than 40,000 Europeans come to Britain each year to work in our farms and factories. They take the low-paid jobs we don’t want. But who takes their place on the farms and factories back home in Europe?
Dispatches has investigated how North Korea, the world’s worst abuser of human rights, has succeeded in placing workers in the heart of the European Union, in what’s been called state sponsored slavery. The programme shows how Kim Jung Un, the Supreme Leader of North Korea is desperate to raise hard cash for his nuclear missile programme.
North Koreans have been granted visas and work permits to work in Poland and Malta, both member states of the European Union, despite the evidence that they are controlled and constantly monitored by North Korean government officials. According to defectors, up to 90% of their wages are thought to be sent back to the Korean Government.
UK companies have unknowingly bought products worked on by North Korean workers.
North Korea’s economy is in decline and Kim Jung Un has used many dubious tactics to raise money, including drug dealing, counterfeit cash and arms smuggling. He is increasingly exploiting one of North Korea’s last remaining resources, by exporting his own people to earn foreign currency.
Conditions for North Korean Workers in the EU:
Defectors have told Human Rights organisations that if you are North Korean you cannot do anything without the permission of the regime, and that the deployment of overseas workers in Europe is orchestrated by the government of North Korea.
Teodora Gyupchanova, a researcher for Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) has interviewed North Korean labourers in Poland: "Definitely in North Korea the workers can’t freely go to a country where they can work and just do this on their own....There are recruitment agencies in Poland that are facilitating this process and they have connections with North Korea companies and they would hire NK labourers and send them to different companies
Teodora says, "The North Korean labourers get 10 to 20% of their salaries. They have been made to work extra hours, and money is extorted from their salaries because the NK state is in a critical situation."
Ben Rogers, Head of East Asia division of Christian Solidarity Worldwide says,
"The real need for the regime is in hard cash ... that is not cash to help the people of North Korea, in fact none of it benefits the people of North Korea who live in dire poverty and who’ve gone through several famines. The money is to sustain its military for its own power and to oppress its own people and threaten its neighbours. So it really is a gangster state regime rather than a government of any kind…"
Anonymous North Korean defector reveals the truth about overseas worker:
Dispatches spoke to a former North Korean forced labourer, who fled to South Korea from Malaysia in 2010. He paints a brutal picture of life as an overseas worker...
"They do not have any rights. They are just like slaves frankly...They endure day by day with the little money they get. Recently I heard that Kim Jung Un ordered more workers to be sent overseas. The regime has to do this because they have no money. They have to send people abroad, as many as they can because the money they earn is huge. That is what they care about and so there will be more NK overseas workers."
All told, it’s estimated that NK overseas workers around the world send back more than a billion pounds a year to the regime...
Under surveillance while working in Europe:
A quiet village 300km from Warsaw doesn’t seem the most likely place to find North Korean workers, but Dispatches has discovered a tomato farm where young North Korean women work in enormous greenhouses. The women live in dormitories on the grounds of the farms and only leave the premises on Sundays.
The Dispatches hidden camera crew catch sight of a group of women walking from the farm.
Defectors say that at all times overseas workers are under the control and watch of the North Korean state. Mularski, the Polish farm owners deny this.
Teodora Gyupchanova describes the life of the overseas workers as “A mini version of North Korea, because you have the same system of surveillance and monitoring the same system of self-criticism sessions that are supposed to be performed almost on a daily basis”
Although the women don’t know they are being filmed, we still obscure their identities to protect them from any possible repercussions from the regime.
Together with Heesoo, a South Korean translator, Morland Sanders approaches them.
Morland: Hi there...you from Korea? You speak English? How long have you lived in Poland?
Heesoo: Are you Koreans
Response: No, we are not Koreans
Heesoo: Oh, you are not Korean
Morland: How sure are you that they are from North Korea?
Heesoo: They have a certain accent from North Korea that as a South Korean I easily recognise so I was 100% sure that they are from North Korea, not from South Korea
Teodora Gyupchanova says that all overseas workers’ family members back home are in effect hostages, so that the regime can keep them under control “...one very important requirement is that they have families in North Korea which can be threatened and punished. The workers are very closely monitored so they would not risk their lives just to have a conversation with a stranger...”
Dispatches found tomatoes from Mularski, where North Koreans work, on sale in Tesco Poland stores. Tesco told the programme that their Tesco UK stores do not sell tomatoes produced at Mularski.
In a statement to Dispatches Mularski, the Polish tomato farm said that their 62 North Korean workers are legally employed, treated fairly and paid properly into their own bank accounts. They say the workers are not supervised on shift by any outsiders and that the Polish authorities have regularly inspected and approved their working conditions.
Tesco told the programme: “t has long been a fundamental Tesco principle that we support workers' rights and require all of our suppliers to adhere to the highest standards for their workers. We have investigated the conditions at Mularski and have not seen or been provided with any evidence to suggest any workers at the site are being mistreated in any way. We will continue to work closely with our supplier and expert organisations to ensure these standards are being upheld."
Dispatches also filmed North Koreans working on a construction site, building luxury apartments in the centre of the Polish capital, Warsaw. The Polish Labour Inspectorate told Dispatches they can’t check how many hours those North Korean construction labourers are working or crucially calculate where their wages end up.
The Polish government told the programme: “Poland just like other EU countries does not have any specific laws forbidding North Korean nationals from working in our country. Foreign nationals working in Poland are protected under the same regulations as Polish citizens.”
Ability to work in the EU vs: EU commitment to Human Rights:
Dr Aidan McQuade, Anti-Slavery International, “The fact that you have found hard evidence of this is something which one really wouldn’t expect happening within any state in the European Union, which have to sign up to basic principles of human rights and rule of law.”
Just last month, the United States asked countries to stop employing North Koreans to cut the regime’s access to foreign cash.
Dispatches has also found that North Koreans have been working until earlier this year in Malta, another member state of the European Union, in a Chinese government-owned textile factory.
Leisure Clothing, the company in Malta where North Koreans worked until earlier this year; supplied small quantities of clothes to at least two British companies, Karen Millen and Coast.
Leisure Clothing declined to be interviewed but insist that their “disciplined and hard-working” North Korean workers “were treated fairly and paid properly” and “were happy to be part of the Leisure Clothing Limited family.”
Karen Millen told the programme that when they were first alerted to this in November 2014 they immediately stopped doing business with Leisure Clothing further orders. They said then: “We have a strict code of conduct to which all our suppliers must adhere, which includes the fair and ethical treatment of employees.”
Coast have also said that as soon as they were alerted to the concerns two years ago about employment practices at Leisure Clothing they immediately removed the two designs from their websites and stores and ceased all business with Leisure Clothing.
The Maltese government which issued the visas and work permits for the North Koreans who worked at Leisure Clothing declined to give a statement to Dispatches.
Dr. Katrine Camilleri, a Human Rights Lawyer in Malta told the programme “I think if we are serious about our commitment to human rights, our commitment to promoting human dignity there is no way in which we should in any way facilitate the so called state sponsored slavery that the North Korean state is said to engage in by very credible and reputable human rights organisations, and I think there is no way they should be issuing those permits.”
The referendum has highlighted just how international the movement of labour has become. And no matter what the industry it seems that business will always try to find the workers it wants, even if that means they come from the other side of the world
Brexit: Who’ll Do Your Job Now? Channel 4 Dispatches – Monday 8th August 8pm
Production Company: MAKE Productions
Reporter: Morland Sanders
Director: Philip Carter
Assistant Producer: Leo Gizzi
Executive Producer: Eamon T. O Connor