WASHINGTON — North Korea’s use of forced and slave labor in the mining export industry, including gold and silver, is systemic and egregious, with proceeds used to support the Communist regime’s economy, a new report revealed Thursday.
In a report entitled “Gulag Inc.: The Use of Forced Labor in North Korea’s Export Industries,” the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, a Washington, D.C.-based nongovernmental organization, said North Korea’s mineral supply chain has been tainted.
“North Korea’s abuse of human rights extends far beyond political prison camps,” said Gordon Flake, co-chair of the HRNK and chief executive officer at the Perth USAsia Centre of the University of Western Australia.
Flake said the report “makes it clear that those concerned about human rights in North Korea must take an expansive view of the problem.”
The report was authored by Kim Kwang-jin, a North Korean who defected from the country in 2003 and is now a non-resident fellow and senior analyst at the HRNK, residing in South Korea.
The 46-page report goes in depth about the distribution and production levels of mineral resources in North Korea, outlining the command structure of ministries and a national system that allocates and mobilizes labor for the mining sector.
“At first glance, this state-run mining industry may appear to be a legitimate means for the North Korean government to earn money, mainly from China,” the report said. “Yet, as this report documents, North Korea’s mining industry uses and abuses individuals who are forced to work in mines and extremely harsh environments.”
Coal is the largest mineral extract for North Korea, which also exports gold, silver and copper, mainly to China.
There are an estimated 2,000 metric tons of gold and 5,000 metric tons of silver in the country, In addition there are 2.9 million tons of copper.
“Nobody can yet determine exactly where the gold ends up as a finite product,” said Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the HRNK, in response to a query. “They are very careful not to label anything ‘Made in North Korea.’”
The report also focused on the mining industry in relation to the government’s penal system. Current estimates put the number of political prisoners at 80,000 to 120,000, who are detained in four large political prison camps. Many of the prisoners are forced to mine the country minerals.
One example in the report sought to highlight the inhumane treatment of prisoners – an inmate who worked in the limestone quarry and the gold mine in a prison camp suffered an open fracture on his foot that was sewn back together without anesthesia and was forced to report back to the mine on the same day.
“Gulag Inc. offers the information needed to make informed business decisions about engaging North Korea’s mining industry,” the report said. “While North Korea’s mining operations remain technologically outdated, hampered by run-down infrastructure, corrupt and unreliable from an investor’s standpoint, the Kim regime also uses forced labor and extracts profit from egregious human rights violations.”
In March, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a resolution prohibiting North Korea from exporting coal, iron, iron ore, gold, titanium ore and rare earth minerals.
The report said that action underscores an “understanding” that the mining sector plays a critical role in raising funds to sustain the Kim regime, which has now undergone its second hereditary transfer of power to Kim Jong-un.”
But its author also found that the U.N. sanctions do not appear to have had a significant impact on North Korea’s exports of “underground resources” to China.
“Such practices are wholly unacceptable to responsible states and enterprises, and take away valuable market share from legitimate mining companies interested in upholding industry standards and practicing corporate social responsibility,” the report said. “It is time for countries importing North Korea’s mining resources, in addition to countries and businesses directly investing in North Korea’s mining operations, to demand that North Korea shut down its gulags, end its state-sponsored forced and slave labor, and adhere to internationally accepted industry standards.”