According to a UN investigator’s report, as many as 50,000 North Koreans have been sent abroad to work in conditions that amount to “forced labor”.
Marzuki Darusman said workers earn very little, are underfed and are sometimes forced to work up to 20-hour days.
The majority of the workers are in China and Russia, mainly in the mining, textile and construction industries.
Marzuki Darusman also listed countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
He said the companies who hire North Korean workers “become complicit in an unacceptable system of forced labor”.
The workers are providing a source of hard currency to a country in a “really tight financial and economic situation”.
Marzuki Darusman estimated that North Korea was earning $1.2 billion-$2.3 billion from the foreign worker system every year.
Since 2006, North Korea has been under international sanction for its nuclear weapons tests resulting in a shortage of foreign currency.