With some 50,000 North Korean workers continuing to earn foreign currency in China despite international sanctions on Pyongyang, North Korean workers are reportedly making clothes to be delivered to South Korea.

A Daily NK source in China recently said with clothing manufacturing orders from South Korea rising from the second half of the year, even clothing factories that employ North Korean workers are making clothes for South Korea. 

Most of the South Korean clothing being processed by North Korean workers is hiking wear, exercise wear or jumpers.

In fact, a Chinese manager of a clothing company told Daily NK that North Korean workers were making clothing products such as Fila and Le Coq Sportif destined for South Korea.

He said if it were not for South Korean orders, factories with North Korean workers would have had to close down. He said orders for South Korean products were previously few, but subcontract orders have noticeably risen from July.

In 2020, companies and factories in China ceased operations in 2020 due to COVID-19, with factories employing North Korean workers shutting their doors, too. From the second half of last year, however, factory operations have returned to normal, with orders climbing this year.

In particular, the low wages North Koreans receive appear to be having an impact on the increase in factory orders.

The average monthly wage of North Korean workers in Chinese factories recently climbed to RMB 2,800-3,200 (USD 437 – 500), roughly 20 to 30% higher than last year.

North Korean workers at a textile factory in Jilin, China in 2017
North Korean workers at a textile factory in Jilin Province, China, in 2017. / Image: Daily NK

Nevertheless, because North Korean workers make just a quarter what their Chinese counterparts make, Chinese companies reportedly prefer North Korean workers as well.

Chinese workers in toll manufacturing make between RMB 8,000 to 12,000 (USD 1250 – 1875) a month.

UN Security Council Resolution 2397, adopted in December 2017, called for the repatriation of all North Korean nationals earning income abroad by December 2019.

However, North Korean authorities have not been repatriating North Korean workers overseas since closing the nation’s borders due to COVID-19 concerns.

In fact, the authorities are expanding the number of new workers being sent overseas to Russia, Mongolia and elsewhere, actively using them to earn foreign currency.

In the past, South Korean clothing orders to China were often subcontracted to North Korean clothing factories.

However, limits to the import of raw materials and export of finished goods imposed since North Korea closed the border has reportedly put a nearly complete stop to the practice.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.