Even in Poland, Workers’ Wages Flow to North Korea

In December, the United Nations Security Council adopted a decision requiring all nations to expel North Korean employees inside two years. The decision, which adopted the North’s launch of a brand new intercontinental ballistic missile in November, additionally imposed a pointy minimize in oil shipments to the nation.

On Thursday, President Trump accused China of permitting gasoline to be smuggled into North Korea, saying Beijing had been caught in the act. The assertion got here amid studies of secret ship-to-ship transfers in worldwide waters by Chinese and Russian vessels.

China and Russia, which host nearly all of North Korea’s abroad employees, have lengthy resisted American efforts to impose a world embargo on the nation. Even the European Union agreed solely in October to cease renewing work permits for North Koreans.

Poland despatched troopers to struggle alongside Americans in Iraq, however is nonetheless one of many few nations nonetheless internet hosting North Korean employees over Washington’s objections.

The State Labor Inspectorate, which regulates working circumstances at Polish corporations, stated that maybe 450 North Koreans remained in the nation as of mid-2017, employed by at the least 19 corporations, together with a fancy of greenhouses rising tomatoes south of Warsaw.

But The New York Times discovered North Korean employees at two different companies — the shipyard in Police, close to the German border, and a manufacturing facility that makes delivery containers in the city of Czluchow, 100 miles southwest of Gdansk.

In Poland, provincial governments subject work permits to overseas laborers, and there may be little coordination with nationwide companies. As a outcome, nobody seems to know exactly what number of North Koreans are in Poland or what they’re doing.

The Foreign Ministry has urged native governments to cease approving work permits for North Koreans, and new laws taking impact in January would require them to achieve this. But till now, the provinces have endured, illustrating the sturdiness of business relationships cast through the Cold War, when Poland was a fellow member of the Communist bloc.

Relations between Poland and North Korea cooled after the autumn of the Soviet Union, however Poland stays one among seven European nations to preserve embassies in Pyongyang.

The Times requested info on work permits issued to North Koreans from Poland’s 16 provincial governments. Nine responded, reporting that they’d given 124 new permits to North Koreans in 2017, and 253 the earlier 12 months.

Men approaching a dormitory utilized by North Korean employees on the Partner shipyard in Poland.

Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Washington has intensified stress on nations to cease internet hosting North Korean laborers, and the listing of nations doing so has dropped to maybe 16, together with Austria and a number of other Persian Gulf states, from about 40, in accordance to human rights teams and United Nations studies.

The Polish authorities has repeatedly pledged to section out work permits for North Koreans after adverse consideration in educational papers and information studies.

But the European Union has not pressed the difficulty, afraid of ratcheting up tensions over sovereignty points after Britain’s vote to exit the bloc. Poland’s right-wing authorities has bristled at European criticism of its strikes to train larger management of the courts.

“The E.U. has been afraid of driving Poland further away,” stated Remco Breuker, a historian and Korea skilled at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

‘Very Unusual’

In a warren of streets close to the Oder River in Police, a dreary city of 40,000, North Korean employees are sometimes seen strolling close to prepare tracks from the Partner shipyard to a grocery retailer.

Sometimes they squat on the sidewalks in entrance of their dormitory, smoking cigarettes whereas braced towards a biting wind. In the evenings, they trudge to purchase pastries or greens. On Sundays, they congregate at an area elementary faculty for soccer video games.

“It’s something very unusual,” stated Pawel Wieczorkowski, deputy director of the native unemployment workplace. “It’s exotic.”

The employees seem intent on sustaining a low profile. With few exceptions, North Korea’s totalitarian authorities forbids residents from mixing with outsiders. Those who fall underneath suspicion can face arrest.

“We are here legally. We pay taxes to the local government,” a North Korean employee stated after being approached exterior the dormitory. Asked about studies that employees have been mistreated, he snapped, “They are all lies!” Then he acquired in a van and drove away, down a muddy alley.

North Koreans working elsewhere in Poland additionally hold to themselves.

At the greenhouse complicated that employs North Koreans, the employees’ dormitory was surrounded by a seven-foot-high concrete wall. But via a crack, a heavyset man in a thick parka might be seen directing six girls to wash a blue Ford van in the winter chill.

In Koldowo, a speck of a village some 200 miles northwest of Warsaw, residents stated a bunch of North Koreans arrived in early 2017 for jobs at Remprodex, a producer of delivery containers in the close by city of Czluchow.

During their first months, they slept inside empty containers regardless of the chilly, residents stated. Later, the employees rented half of a home tucked inside a walled compound.

Remprodex didn’t reply to questions, and Times reporters have been turned away on the property of the Kociszewscy household, which owns the greenhouses.

The nations internet hosting North Korean employees have defended the preparations, arguing that they expose the laborers to the surface world and assist them help their households. Conditions again dwelling could be so determined that some North Koreans pay bribes to get these jobs.

But human rights organizations, North Korean defectors and United Nations displays have described the assignments as pressured labor as a result of the employees are bodily confined, underneath fixed surveillance and disadvantaged of most of their wages.

As many as 147,000 North Koreans now work overseas, in accordance to a current estimate by the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, and the ruling Workers’ Party in Pyongyang is claimed to seize anyplace from 30 to 80 p.c of every laborer’s earnings.

A person exterior a North Korean employees’ dormitory.

Andrew Testa for The New York Times

That quantities to a major income supply for a regime more and more pinched by worldwide sanctions — between $200 million and $500 million yearly, in accordance to most consultants.

‘Trade Secrets’

The name that may put her in enterprise with North Korea got here round 2007, Cecylia Kowalska recalled.

At the time, she ran an organization in the port metropolis of Gdansk that equipped electrical and welding providers to the delivery and development industries.

A shipyard in Gdansk wanted somebody to handle 10 North Korean welders who had labored there in the previous, she stated. They had been employed via one other agency that had struggled to pay them on time.

Ms. Kowalska, now 67, stated her firm, Armex, assumed accountability for the employees, after which established a relationship with the North Korean companions who had introduced them to Poland.

She later started supplying North Korean welders to two different shipyards, run by Crist S.A. and Nauta S.A., each corporations that make struggle vessels for NATO members.

“They were skilled and hard-working,” she stated of the North Koreans.

Ms. Kowalska additionally served because the authorized consultant of an organization referred to as Wonye that was established to provide employees to factories, shipyards, and fruit and vegetable wholesalers, in accordance to Polish company data.

The data determine Wonye’s president as a North Korean named Jo Chol-yong.

In the mid-1990s, a person of the identical identify and delivery date labored for a North Korean firm managed by the ruling occasion division that oversees the nation’s nuclear and missile applications, in accordance to a registry of Pyongyang residents smuggled out of North Korea.

Wonye’s vice chairman is listed as Kang Hong-gu, who seems to have beforehand served as commander of a unit concerned in development, the eighth Sokdojon Brigade, in accordance to the Pyongyang registry.

Ms. Kowalska stated she helped set up Wonye in 2015 as a favor to one among her North Korean companions however by no means took an lively function and bought her shares the following 12 months.

According to analysis by Mr. Breuker and his colleagues, Armex obtained its employees from the Rungrado General Trading Corporation, a North Korean provider of abroad employees sanctioned by the United States in 2016 and accused of funding the division that oversees the nuclear weapons program.

Asked about her companions, Ms. Kowalska stated she was unsure of their names and promised to look them up. But she later declined to determine them, saying that doing so would disclose “trade secrets.”

Once, she recalled, one of many North Koreans advised she purchase a present for officers in Pyongyang — a sword. “A sign of our thanks for this partnership,” she stated. “I thought it was like buying someone flowers.”

The sword was later displayed in a corridor for presents to North Korea’s leaders and highlighted in a North Korean propaganda video that recognized Armex by identify.

Ms. Kowalska stated the partnership proceeded easily till three years in the past, when a North Korean welder with out ample security gear burned to demise on the Crist shipyard. The accident alarmed Crist’s clients, amongst them a Danish shipbuilder that had employed the Polish shipyard to deal with work on a struggle vessel for Denmark, one other NATO member.

Soon afterward, Ms. Kowalska stated, she stopped hiring North Korean employees “because it became such a sensitive issue.” She added that she was now retired and not managed North Korean employees.

The shipyard in Police. The Polish authorities says that a whole bunch of North Koreans work in the nation.

Andrew Testa for The New York Times

But her North Korean companions nonetheless seem to be lively in Poland.

On a current afternoon, Times reporters noticed two automobiles with Polish license plates parked exterior the employees’ dormitory on the tomato greenhouses: the van that was being washed and a darkish Mercedes sedan.

According to data seen by The Times, the van is registered to Wonye’s vice chairman, Mr. Kang, and the Mercedes to its president, Mr. Jo.

A Parallel Reality

Though the European Union maintains intensive labor protections, North Koreans who’ve labored there describe a parallel actuality.

“Our girls lived as if they were in prison,” stated Kim Tae-san, a North Korean defector who labored in the Czech Republic from 2000 to 2002 supervising 200 younger North Korean girls in a shoe manufacturing facility.

He stated the ladies have been pressured to stay throughout off-hours in their dormitory, the place they attended ideological examine classes and will watch solely motion pictures and propaganda documentaries despatched from dwelling.

Once every week, he added, they have been allowed out to go to the market — however solely in teams.

North Koreans despatched to work abroad are vetted for political loyalty, however the authorities additionally sends minders to watch them. Mr. Kim stated the employees additionally “monitored each other.”

The girls labored six days every week, incomes $150 a month however conserving solely about $25 for meals and financial savings. Their supervisors took the remainder, Mr. Kim stated, spending among the cash on housing however sending most of it again to the authorities in North Korea.

Poles who’ve labored with North Koreans describe comparable circumstances. A shipyard employee at Crist, for instance, recalled how a North Korean colleague fell sick on the job and was urged by a paramedic to cease working. Instead, the person grew to become frantic, insisting he had to proceed.

“This is slave labor,” stated Agnes Jongerius, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, who has urged European authorities to drive Poland to cease admitting North Korean employees.

Ms. Kowalska scoffed at allegations of abuse and stated the North Koreans she managed loved “a normal life.”

“They asked us for advice on what to buy their wives and kids,” she stated. “They liked to buy lingerie for their wives. It was a popular gift, and they would ask us about inexpensive shops.”

She stated her firm paid the employees about $780 per thirty days. She acknowledged at first that Armex despatched a portion of their wages to a North Korean firm, however later stated she had misspoken and nobody took a minimize.

As worldwide scrutiny has intensified, the State Labor Inspectorate has vowed to examine claims of abuse. So far, the company has discovered “no signs of forced labor,” stated Dorota Gorajska, an official answerable for corporations that make use of overseas employees.

Officials acknowledged, nevertheless, that inspections have usually been confined to paperwork and that when interviews are carried out, investigators sometimes depend on translators offered by employers.

Given North Korea’s repute, does that not taint their findings? An official on the inspectorate, Michal Tyczynski, took a deep breath.

“It’s a tricky question,” he stated. “There is no good answer to this question.”

Correction: January 1, 2018

Because of an modifying error, an earlier model of this text misstated the 12 months when Poland’s provincial governments gave at the least 124 new work permits to North Koreans. It was 2017, not 2007.

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