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UK to supply PPE from factory secretly using North Korean slave labor | Global development

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Evidence revealed by the Guardian revealed that the British government received PPE from a Chinese factory where hundreds of North Korean women were secretly working in modern slavery.

Hundreds of thousands of protective clothing ordered from the Ministry of Health and Human Services (DHSC) came from factories using North Korean labor in Dandong, China, according to the Guardians’ investigation.

A three-month survey also found evidence that North Korean labor is being used in factories exporting PPE to the United States, Italy, Germany, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Myanmar.

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North Korean workers in Dandong, mostly women, work up to 18 hours a day and have little or no breaks. They are under constant surveillance and cannot leave the factory freely.

Sources say North Korean workers working at a PPE plant in Dandong are seized by the North Korean state about 70% of their wages.

Workers do not have a day off. They can’t go out. North Korea [state] Control them. They are making money for the country, said a manager at a factory.

The UN has branded the North Korean regime’s export of workers abroad as state-backed forced labor that has been defined by the International Labor Organization as a form of modern slavery.

The findings suggest that the British government may have indirectly placed taxpayers’ money in the pockets of Kim Jong-un and his brutal regime.

The use of North Korean workers in China is a violation of UN sanctions enforced by North Korea to block income earned from foreign workers and other foreign corporate interests. One of the clear goals of the sanctions is to halt imports from foreign exports used to support regimes banning nuclear and ballistic missile programs. U.S. sanctions also ban the import of all goods into the United States that are manufactured in whole or in part by North Koreans.

How Chinese PPE factories supplying the UK use North Korean slave labor video

The government has been criticized for its lack of transparency and accountability in awarding billions of pounds of PPE deals using regulations that allow direct winning of contracts without competing bids in extremely urgent cases.

Governments should not use regulations that allow urgent procurement to rush through contracts without finding out if there are risks to workers in the supply chain producing PPE. This lack of due diligence reveals that government policies, far from effectively addressing modern slavery, are allowing terrible exploitation of workers, said Phil Bloomer, director of the Center for Business and Human Rights.

Many garment factories in Dandong rotated to produce PPE during the pandemic. Photo: Handout

Evidence shows that the shipment of protective PPE coveralls associated with the North Korean workforce was part of a contract awarded by DHSC to Unispace Global Ltd, a UK-registered commercial design company, and shortly after establishing a PPE procurement operation called Unispace Health Ltd. The pandemic has begun. It is currently one of the UK’s largest PPE procurement contractors.

According to the document by the Guardian, orders are subcontracted to Dandong Huayang Textile & Garment Co., Ltd., a large garment factory in Dandong, through a Chinese trading company, and share some orders with branch factories. Both factories appear to be using North Korean workers.

There is no indication that either DHSC or Unispace Global Ltd are aware that North Korean workforce may exist in the PPE supply chain.

Unispace Global Ltd did not respond to multiple requests for comments on the findings of the Guardians investigation.

Shipments to the UK are only a fraction of the PPE manufactured by the Dandong plant, which appears to be using North Korean workers. In April, 200,000 sterile coveralls arrived in Bari, Italy in boxes marked with Dandong Huayang’s unique brand. A South African distributor advertised 2 million protective clothing from the same company, and small orders were found in the US, Germany, Korea and Japan.

Shipment of new PPE to Bari Airport, Italy Photo: Courtesy of Salentolive24

The Guardian discovered that two other factories in Dandong, allegedly using North Korean workers, manufactured PPE for customers in the United States and the Philippines.

Dandong’s clothing manufacturer, located on the banks of the Yalu River in northeastern China, bordering North Korea, has been procuring workers from totalitarian countries for years.

It’s a reciprocal step where Chinese factories get cheap and compliant workforces, and the North Korean regime receives millions of dollars in return.

As the epidemic swept the world at the beginning of the year, Dandong garment manufacturers began to quickly shift their production lines from clothing to isolation gowns and protective clothing. 14 companies in Dandong have registered medical protective equipment products with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2020.

According to documents and reports on government and company websites, the transition to PPE was supported by local and local governments.

Dandong has already become a global center for the production of gowns and work clothes because it already has a cheap North Korean workforce. Because gown production is labor-intensive, Dandong can produce it at the lowest cost and highest profit, said Kim Seung-jae, who wrote two books on North Korean overseas workers.

Dandong, Liaoning Province, in northeastern China borders North Korea. Photo: Take River / AP

According to a post posted on the Dandong government’s website, from January to July of this year, more than 21 million PPEs were produced at factories in and around the city, a favorable year for urban factory owners. Everyone will make millions of dollars.

Paper workers earn 2,200 to 2,800 yuan (240 to 310 yuan) per month, but only a fraction of them can be seen. Instead, it is collected by North Korean workers who hand over the majority of North Korean workers to North Korea. Workers get hundreds [yuan], Said the factory boss.

Nevertheless, the wages workers can keep are more than can be earned in North Korea, leading to the demand for work abroad by the poor.

Remco Breuker, professor of Korean Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, says nonetheless is still a form of forced labor.

Workers refuse to work, quit, they can’t use their free time, they can freely socialize the way they want, they don’t get enough wages or in extreme cases they don’t get it at all, he said. .

In a statement, DHSC said, “We expect all NHS suppliers to follow the highest legal and ethical standards and to conduct appropriate due diligence on all government contracts.

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