North Korea Work
North Koreans walk next to a railway track and a residential area on the banks of Tumen River, in Namyang Workers' District of North Hamgyong province, North Korea, opposite the Chinese border city of Tumen, December 15, 2015. North Korea sends some of its laborers abroad to make money for the country. Jacky Chen/REUTERS

China is North Korea’s largest trading partner, but the cash-strapped nation started exploring other ways to infuse much-needed money into its system. Even the most closed off nation in the world is subject to the forces of globalization, and according to the New York Times Tuesday, North Korea has been exporting labor to Russia. The money the workers make goes back to the country that now has intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities (ICBM). Often the laborers work in terrible conditions.

A State Department report from June called the conditions for North Korean workers “indicative of forced labor.”

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“(There are conditions such) as working excessively long hours in hazardous temperatures with restricted pay, for up to three years at a time. North Korean government 'minders' restrict and monitor their movement and communications. North Koreans sent overseas do not have a choice in the work the government ultimately assigns them and are not free to change jobs,” read the report. “Other reports note these laborers work on average between 12 and 16 hours a day, and sometimes up to 20 hours per day, and are allowed only one or two rest days per month.”

Laborers are often sent to China as well. The money they make is mostly appropriated and sent back to the government, workers only get to keep a small fraction of it. Sometimes the worker’s portion of the money is held until they return to North Korea.

Workers are often threatened with harm against them or their families back home in order to keep them from escaping or complaining to outside parties.

The Data Base Center for North Korean Human Rights put out a report last year estimating that between 30 and 80 percent of wages are confiscated by the North Korean government, depending on the industry in which the laborer works. It also estimates that there are around 50,000 North Korean laborers in Russia, though the Times said other reports estimate between 30,000 and 40,000. The workers are forced to live together in cramped dormitory-style residences and prevented from speaking to Russians according to the Times.

Workers in Vladivostock, an east coast port in Russia, often find work as painters and decorators. Their job is less grueling than some workers forced into lumber or heavy construction jobs.

“They are fast, cheap and very reliable, much better than Russian workers,” said Yulia Kravchenko to the Times Tuesday about the painters. “They do nothing but work from morning until late at night.”

A Vladivostock home improvement site touts the cheap and efficient labor of North Koreans.

“Oddly enough, but (sic) the people are industrious and honest … They will perform quality work and at a reasonable price,” the website reads.

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North Korea’s ability to collect foreign income lately has been substantially hobbled by international sanctions and a year-long ban on China importing coal from North Korea that began in February. These actions were taken in response to North Korea’s repeated missile tests, the latest of which was a first for the nation, an ICBM launch.

President Donald Trump has been trying to lean on China to curb economic ties to North Korea as a way to force them to stop their development of missiles and nuclear weapons. The president may need to push Russia, another of North Korea’s largest trading partners, to do the same.