The case for knowing where your food comes from grows ever stronger: A new Associated Press investigation reveals America’s hunger for seafood is unwittingly helping fund the North Korean dictatorship.
According to the report, North Korea is outsourcing workers to plants in China that process seafood, including wild-caught salmon, snow crab, and squid, that’s sold in U.S. grocery stores such as Walmart and Aldi — meaning American grocery shoppers “may inadvertently have subsidized the North Korean government as it builds its nuclear weapons program.”
Located in the city of Hunchun in Northeast China, which borders North Korea, these seafood processing plants are gigantic compounds housing workers who have no privacy, sleep on metal bunk beds, cannot use phones or email, and are not allowed to leave without permission. As much as 70 percent of their pay (which is typically around $300 per month) goes to their government.
The AP notes that “while the presence of North Korean workers overseas has been [previously] documented, the AP investigation reveals for the first time that some products they make go to the United States, which is now a federal crime.”
As the report explains, all this outsourced labor means big bucks for Kim Jong Un:
At a time when North Korea faces sanctions on many exports, the government is sending tens of thousands of workers worldwide, bringing in revenue estimated at anywhere from $200 million to $500 million a year. That could account for a sizable portion of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, which South Korea says have cost more than $1 billion.
For those wondering which specific products to avoid, the AP says “packages of snow crab, salmon fillets, squid rings and more were imported by American distributors, including Sea-Trek Enterprises in Rhode Island, and the Fishin’ Company in Pennsylvania,” the latter of which “supplies retailers and food service companies, as well as supermarkets.”
Though some of the products come in generic packaging that allows it to be resold or repackaged under various names or purchased by restaurants, others come prepackaged from China bearing the Walmart brand or an Aldi house brand called Sea Queen.
A Walmart spokesperson says the company learned about “potential labor problems” in Hunchun a year ago, and has banned its suppliers from sourcing seafood from there. Of course, any of the companies sourcing North Korean-produced seafood that haven’t already cut ties with the offending suppliers are highly likely to do so now that this information has been thrust into the public eye for fear of prosecution, not to mention bad publicity.
The AP has dug hard into tracing U.S. food supply chains in recent years, with a December 2015 investigation revealing that much of the shrimp sold in American grocery stores and restaurants is produced by slave labor in Thailand.