The North Korean people's security officers are making money by conscripting detainees held at Labor Discipline Center to forced labor with companies that are responsible for raising foreign currency.
Labor Discipline Center is a detention facility established to hold criminals who have committed minor offenses. The facility has been used illegally for many years as the detention at this facility was never stipulated by the criminal law codes until 2004, when 165 articles were added to the law that included penalty of detention at the Labor Discipline Center.
The Labor Discipline Center is under the direct supervision of the People's Security Office and it has been reported that its economic inspection department has been exchanging forced labor of the prisoners for a fee with companies.
An example is the collusion between Kang-seo county's people's security office in Pyongnam province and a certain military-related company in the same district responsible for raising foreign currencies. Kang-seo county's people's security office chose 25 men and 35 women of those who had been detained for trying to escape from North Korea - but not to South Korea - from the Labor Discipline Center and sent them out for 100 days of labor. Officers received 5,000 wons per day for each person, or 300,000 wons per day and 100 days of labor adds up to $12,000 at current exchange rate.
The provincial people's security organization issued instruction to the Kang-seo county office to make at least $50,000 per month under the pretext of 'loyal act of raising foreign currency. $12,000 a month they can make by exploiting prisoners is not nearly enough to cover both this requirement of the provincial organization as well as the office’s need for foreign currency in order to purchase necessary utilities such as computers. However, it is good extra income for corrupt officials, since the only cost for them is a little food and daily necessities for the prisoners.
The company to which detainees were forced to work for was located in Jeung-san of Pyongnam province, farming and exporting clams to China. Jeung-san's company needs a large labor force to dig out clams, but it is expensive to hire workers. Besides the basic wage of several thousand wons (several dollars) a day and the daily lunch, the companny is required provide 20kg of rice, 2 liters of cooking oil and 5kg of granulated sugar per month for every worker. On average, it costs 400,000 won ($16) per worker each month, or 2.5 times more than prisoners from the Labor Discipline Center.
Another problem with regular laborers is that many have connections to powerful elite class officials. These officials probably used their influence to get them the job in the first place. The problem is that due to their connections, the company has to be careful with regular workers. They can push prisoner worker without any fear of retribution. For mutual benefit, they agreed upon 60 prisoner workers.
People's security officers usually keep much more money for themselves than what they turn in to the office. In many cases the officials and the company’s executives directly involved in this business embezzle money in the process.
"This is not an isolated incident, but a common occurrence. This is a regular business practice of every related company throughout the country," said the source.
Before the arduous march in 1990s, each people's security officer was assigned to raise a specific amount of money as the 'loyal act of raising foreign currency.' In some cases teams were organized specifically for the purpose of raising foreign currency. With the recent downturn of economy, however, officials are having greater difficulties meeting their quotas and organizing a group to pan for gold or hunt for fungible commodities such as mushrooms or medicinal herbs were becoming increasingly more difficult.
Their answer was to collude with companies with responsibilities of raising foreign currencies. This small-scale cheap labor trade is an example of "collusion between politics and business" in North Korea and lower class civilians are the only losers in this business.
Translation by Hoyeon Choi Supervised by Sunny Kang
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