What Some Brands Don’t Know about North Korea
A recent trip down to the DPRK yielded some interesting observations backed up by others just returned from a trade mission in the country (no trade really, but a good excuse for a look at the weirdness on the company account). The North Koreans were eager to show that life was going on despite the imposition of tighter sanctions recently.
Particularly of note are the 250 or so Chinese-DPRK joint ventures. Much less is known about most of these than the more high profile South Korean investments corralled in Kaesong down near the DMZ.
The Chinese-DPRK JVs range across the country but there are clusters up along the PRC-DPRK border along the Yalu River and particularly around border towns such as Sinuiju. Many of these Chinese-North Korean ventures exist in name only – either the funding has never come through, negotiations are stalled or the power/spare parts/equipment/necessary permits/technical know all (and usually a combination of several of these factors) has never materialised.
However, there are a number of textiles operations up and running and guess what despite the boycott and official ban on DPRK made products being exported to or sold in the USA there are factories producing garments for the American market. This means that any number of Americans – maybe even hawkish types in Washington – are strolling around wearing DPRK-made duds.
How can this happen – prettily easily actually. US brands contracting to Chinese manufacturers just don’t know that some of that work is being sub-contracted across the border – of course when it is shipped the label reads ‘Made in China’. Brands beware.
Paul French, China Editor, and author of “North Korea: The Paranoid Peninsula, A Modern History” (hyperlinked above)