Saturday, January 28, 2006

North Korea's 21st Century slave labor

"This is 21st-century slave labor," said Kim Tae San, a former official of the North Korean Embassy in Prague. Kim Tae San should know. In 1998, he helped set up the factories in the Czech Republic where the North Korean women he is referring to work.

In 2002 he and his wife defected and sought asylum from South Korea.

It was Kim's job to collect the salaries and distribute the money to workers. He said 55 percent was taken off the top as a "voluntary" contribution to the cause of the socialist revolution. The women had to buy and cook their own food. Additional sums were deducted for accommodations, transportation and extras such as flowers for the birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. The women even had to pay for the propaganda films they were forced to watch.

By the time all the deductions were made, they received between $20 and $30 a month. They spent less than $10 of it on food, buying only the cheapest local macaroni.

Kim says Czechs often mistook the North Korean women for convict laborers because of the harsh conditions. "They would ask the girls, 'What terrible thing did you do to be sent here to work like this?' "

[Excerpted from an article by Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times]

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