CLOTHES labelled “Made in China” are being produced in North Korea and exported across the world, say factory owners and traders.
Chinese textile firms based in the border town of Dandong are taking advantage of cheaper labour next door in North Korea, spurred by the fact the latest round of United Nations sanctions do not cover textile exports.
All factories in North Korea are state-owned and workers are being paid between US$75 and $160 per month, compared with US$450-US$750 in China. Garments from these factories are allegedly unknowingly being sold to buyers in United States, Japan, South Korea and Europe.
“We take orders from all over the world,” a Korean-Chinese businessman in Dandong told Reuters, who said North Korean workers can produce 30 percent more garments each day than their Chinese counterparts because they are denied toilet breaks.
“We will ask the Chinese suppliers who work with us if they plan on being open with their client – sometimes the final buyer won’t realise their clothes are being made in North Korea. It’s extremely sensitive.”
Textiles were North Korea’s second largest export in 2016 after coal and other minerals. UN sanctions have now completely banned coal exports, while the seafood trade on the China-North Korea border has also drastically declined.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said last week China would pay the greatest price for UN sanctions on North Korea due to its economic ties with the pariah state, but that it was prepared to do so for the sake of world peace.
The sanctions also ban countries from increasing current numbers of foreign North Korean workers, many of whom are already employed in Dandong’s factories.
“It’s a hassle to hire North Korean workers though,” a Korean-Chinese businesswoman told Reuters. “You need to have the right set-up. Their living space has to be completely closed off, you have to provide a classroom where they can take classes every day.
“They bring their own doctor, nurse, cook and teachers who teach them North Korean ideology every day.”
Meanwhile, Chinese tourists reportedly continue to flood into North Korea, undeterred by escalating tensions between Pyongyang and Washington.
“We’re curious. We want to see how they live,” Xu Juan said to Reuters on Thursday before crossing the Yalu River, which marks the border between the two countries. Xu was travelling with friends and family from Hangzhou, in eastern China.
“I just want the sense of nostalgia, to see a country that is poor, like (China was) when I was young,” said a man in his early 50s, from Jilin province, declining to give his name.
Few expressed concern over the North’s persistent missile tests in recent months, which led the UN Security Council on Saturday to impose tough new sanctions against Pyongyang.
Additional reporting by Reuters