Report: North Korean Workers May Have Prepared Your Salmon Fillet

The country is sending its citizens abroad to work in seafood factories under slave-like conditions.

zozzzzo/istock / Getty

North Korean workers employed in slave-like conditions are preparing seafood found in American restaurants and grocery stores, according to a new investigation from the Associated Press. 

In an attempt to combat sanctions, North Korea has exported thousands of its workers abroad, and some of them have ended up in seafood processing companies that ship to countries around the world, including the US. Americans buying fish for dinner at major big box stores “may inadvertently have subsidized the North Korean government as it builds its nuclear weapons program,” the AP reports. “Their purchases may also have supported what the United States calls ‘modern day slavery’—even if the jobs are highly coveted by North Koreans.”

Many of these workers can be found in Chinese factories in places like Hunchun, where AP reporters spotted North Koreans working shifts as long as 12 hours, with only one day off at week:

Privacy is forbidden. They cannot leave their compounds without permission. They must take the few steps to the factories in pairs or groups, with North Korean minders ensuring no one strays. They have no access to telephones or email. And they are paid a fraction of their salaries, while the rest—as much as 70 percent—is taken by North Korea’s government.

Through an analysis of shipping records, the AP identified three seafood processors employing North Koreans that exported to the US, noting that “100 cargo containers of seafood, more than 2,000 tons, were sent to the US and Canada this year from factories where North Koreans were working in China.” American distributors imported seafood such as snow crab, salmon fillets, and squid rings. The seafood products also end up in Canada, Germany, and parts of the European Union. 

American importers who use North Korean products could potentially find themselves facing criminal charges: Importing products made by North Korean workers anywhere in the world is a federal crime, following a new law signed by President Trump in early August.

The AP’s investigation adds to a growing saga over some of the appalling conditions workers face in the seafood industry. You can read their full report here