AMERICAN shoppers buying seafood from Aldi and Walmart may have inadvertently subsidised North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, a shock investigation claims.
The highly-respected Associated Press (AP) reports the rogue state sends tens of thousands of workers across the world to help bring up to £350m a year into government coffers.
Many work in factories in China packing fish for sale in household name stores across the US and Europe. A large chunk of their wages goes straight to the despotic regime.
It’s feared a sizeable portion of that cash then goes towards building Kim Jong-un’s nuclear arsenal.
AP tracked products made by North Korean workers to America, Canada, Germany and elsewhere in the European Union.
Aldi said its UK stores are not linked to the factories.
In response to the investigation, Senate leaders said the US needs to keep products made by North Koreans out and get China to refuse to hire North Korean workers.
“The (Trump) administration needs to ramp up the pressure on China to crack down on trade with North Korea across the board,” said Democrat Chuck Schumer.
At Chinese factories, North Korean workers aren’t allowed to leave their compounds without permission or their North Korean minders.
They receive a fraction of their salaries, while as much as 70 percent is taken directly by Kim’s government.
John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute, urged its 300 members to “ensure that wages go to the workers, and are not siphoned off to support a dangerous dictator.”
Besides seafood, AP found North Korean labourers making wood flooring and sewing garments in Chinese factories.
Those industries also export to the US, but AP did not track specific shipments except for seafood.
American companies are not allowed to import products made by North Korean workers anywhere in the world, under a law signed by President Donald Trump in early August.
Every Western company involved that responded to AP’s requests for comment said forced labour and potential support for North Korea’s weapons programme were unacceptable in their supply chains.
Many said they were going to investigate, and some said they had already cut off ties with suppliers.
“This is a state-sponsored scheme to export folks who are in bonded labour,” said Luis CdeBaca, former US ambassador for human trafficking issues. “It’s supporting a repressive regime.”
Roughly 3,000 North Koreans are believed to work in Hunchun, a Chinese industrial hub near the North Korean and Russian borders.
Shipping records show more than 100 cargo containers of seafood were sent to the US and Canada this year from the factories where North Koreans were working in China.
One importer, The Fishin’ Company in Munhall, Pennsylvania, said it has now cut ties with Hunchun processors and got its last shipment this summer.
Seafood can remain in the supply chain for more than a year.
Often the fish arrives in generic packaging.
But some were already branded in China with familiar names like Walmart or Sea Queen – which is sold exclusively at Aldi supermarkets.
Walmart spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said company officials banned their suppliers from getting seafood processed at a Hunchun plant a year ago after an audit revealed potential issues with migrant workers.
“Combating forced labour is a complex problem that no one company, industry, or government can tackle alone,” she said.
Aldi said the supermarket chain…”is committed to human rights and fair labour practices” and it expects its business partners to comply with laws and regulations.”