A U.S. congressional commission has called on the Biden administration to act against alleged forced labor involving North Korean workers in China’s fishing industry, saying seafood sales to U.S. consumers could be helping finance North Korea’s weapons programs.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

North Korea is under U.S.-led international sanctions, to which China is a party, aimed at reining in ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs that threaten the United States and its allies.

The sanctions include prohibition of the use of North Korean labor in third countries, and as the Congressional Executive Commission on China letter states, U.S. law prohibits imports of any goods made with North Korean labor.2

2 CHINESE FISHERMEN DROWN WHILE BEING CHASED BY TAIWAN’S COAST GUARD FOR ALLEGED TRESPASSING

CONTEXT

The concerns were highlighted in a letter dated on Monday and made available on Wednesday sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Alejandro Mayorkas, head of the Department of Homeland Security, from Republican Representative Chris Smith and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, co-chairs of the commission.

They cited recent reporting by the non-governmental Outlaw Ocean Project saying North Koreans are forced to work and suffer abusive practices in Chinese plants processing seafood “that ends up on American plates.”

Fishing boats are seen moored at Gaoqi fishing port in China

Fishing boats are seen at Gaoqi fishing port in Xiamen, Fujian province, China, on July 26, 2023. Allegations of forced labor involving North Korean workers in China’s fishing industry have drawn concerns that seafood sales to U.S. consumers could be helping finance North Korea’s weapons programs. (cnsphoto via Reuters/File Photo)

The CECC chairs said the U.S. government should:

  • Immediately stop all imports from Chinese companies that employ North Korean labor
  • Request a U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss China’s alleged violation of U.N. sanctions
  • Insist on access for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to North Korean workers in China
  • Require full supply chain disclosures, records of shipments, and forced labor prevention plans for all U.S. seafood procurements and the issue of an advisory on the risks from purchasing seafood from China

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KEY QUOTES

“Seafood sold in American grocery stores and wholesalers such as Costco and delivered to military bases, school food programs, and even congressional cafeterias makes both American consumers and the U.S. government inadvertently complicit in supporting forced labor and funding Kim Jong Un’s dictatorial regime,” the letter says.

A spokesperson for China’s embassy in Washington declined to comment, saying they were unaware of the issue. Costco did not respond to a request for comment.

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