Global Tracker

North Korea’s Illicit Labor Activities Abroad Help Fund Its Nuclear Program

The UN is investigating 14 other African nations where North Korea has diplomatic relations for possible evidence that North Korea is running a secret slave labor operation.

BY: ANDY LAUB

A report out from CNN today highlights North Korean labor activities in violation of UN sanctions in the African nation of Namibia, where North Korean workers helped build the Presidential palace and construct a major statue of the country’s late leader. The UN is investigating 14 other African nations where North Korea has diplomatic relations for possible evidence that North Korea is running a secret slave labor operation. In Russia, the use of North Korean laborers have been documented in cities like Vladivostok, near the North Korean border; North Korean laborers also helped build the new stadium in St. Petersburg which is to be used in next year’s world cup.

WHY IT MATTERS:

North Korea has long been suspected of using its embassies around the world to run such illegal labor operations, however it is rare for it to be covered so extensively in the media. North Korea is heavily sanctioned by Western powers, yet continues to make rapid progress on its nuclear and ballistic missile program, leaving the United States and its allies with fewer options. Today’s story demonstrates the limited effectiveness of sanction efforts. Sanctions are only as good as the ability to enforce them. Thus far, developing comprehensive measures to guarantee the efficacy of sanctions has been elusive. North Korea’s cyber capabilities have also grown considerably; this is evidenced by the hacking of the Central Bank of Bangladesh, in which North Korean agents robbed the bank, with the illicit proceeds funding its nuclear program. Tough talk and economic pressure are a start, but North Korea’s resistance and subversion of sanctions show the need for a broader strategy; one that combines direct diplomacy as well as a multilateral approach, and one that includes nations beyond the West, with the assistance of international institutions to ensure sanctions are being properly enforced.

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