VICE Specials

Cash for Kim: North Korean Forced Laborers Are Working to Their Death in Poland

In this new film, VICE was able to speak with North Korean forced laborers in Poland and reveal the conscious and unwitting beneficiaries of their exploitative working conditions.
May 20, 2016, 2:10pm

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Going off an accident report obtained by VICE, stating that a North Korean welder lost his life in the CRIST shipyard in the Polish seaport of Gdynia, filmmakers Sebastian Weis and Manuel Freundt have uncovered which companies are using North Korean laborers in Poland.

Weis's and Freundt's investigation has revealed the conscious and unwitting beneficiaries of these exploitative working conditions. They spoke with North Korean laborers who have been isolated and kept under watch, and who were most likely too afraid of punishment to report their living and working conditions in Poland.

VICE has also gained exclusive access to documents that reveal the wages of North Korean laborers in Poland before the Kim regime's deductions, as well as confidential service contracts, payment records, registers of persons, passport copies, and excerpts from a population register smuggled out of North Korea, indicating that a Polish company is likely being run by a high-ranking member of the North Korean military.

The research unravels a complex web of organized exploitation, bureaucratic chaos, official indifference, and political ignorance that extends all the way to the European Commission. Most of all, the film shines a light on working conditions that can only be described as forced labor, as defined in the European Convention on Human Rights and by the International Labor Organization.

The documentary poses the question of whether the presence of North Korean forced laborers in Poland is a bureaucratic system error, or rather the result of economic policy that turns a blind eye to the consequences of its actions, as long as European companies profit, while the Kim regime bypasses international sanctions to fill state coffers with foreign currency.