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Ethics Czech – Is North Korea the New Philippines?

For several decades now the Philippines has kept afloat largely thanks to the remittances sent back by all those maids, nurses, seaman, construction workers and others who go abroad to work. Is North Korea following the same strategy?

For some time now the North has been sending workers abroad – to Russia, Libya, Kuwait, Romania, China and Mongolia among other destinations. They usually do hard and tough work, live isolated lives in compounds in remote regions and send back their remittances to help their families with the government taking a nice cut. In some cases it has been due to the need for cheap labour, or a shortage of local workers or to pay off the North’s long standing debts to its old ‘friends’.

Now 400 North Korean women have popped up in the Czech Republic working mostly as seamstresses on three to four year contracts. A row has started in Prague with some calling this state-imposed forced labour. However, usually in the past North Koreans have been well out of the public eye – now they are in the Czech Republic, a member of the European Union, and are reportedly sewing headrests and armrests for BMWs, Mercedes, Renaults and other cars sold in Western Europe.

Actually it seems they are paid OK – often above the Czech minimum wage.
However at least 55% is skimmed from the top of their salaries as a “voluntary” contribution to Pyongyang and, according to the international press, after additional deductions for accommodation and items like birthday gifts for the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Il the women are left with around US$20 to US$30 a month. This of course gets people a bit angry – how many of you working abroad would be willing to have your wages skimmed to buy birthday presents for Dear Leaders Tony Blair or George Bush?

Paul French, China Editor

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