jilin province workers work
FILE PHOTO: North Korean workers at a clothing factory in China's Jilin Province. (Daily NK)

North Korean laborers employed by a contractor of the Chinese sporting goods firm Li-Ning are suffering from low pay and high-intensity work, Daily NK has learned. 

A source in China told Daily NK on Apr. 12 that several clothing manufacturers in Dandong, Liaoning Province, in collaboration with the Li-Ning head office, are making sports clothing and one of the companies employs around 600-700 North Korean laborers.

The source said that North Korean laborers dispatched overseas have been working for the last seven or eight years at this company, which is around 15 kilometers away from Dandong. Daily NK was unable to confirm whether North Korean laborers are working at other Li-Ning contractors.

The source reported that he was taken aback by the fact that such a large number of North Korean laborers have been working there for such a long time and that this fact is not well known to the outside world.

Chinese companies recruit considerable numbers of North Korean laborers because they can pay lower wages for high-intensity work than they would to local Chinese workers. 

The source said that North Korean laborers at the company near Dandong receive monthly wages of about RMB 2,300 (around USD 348). “There was talk of a pay raise, but that fell by the wayside due to COVID-19,” he added. 

The average monthly wage of Chinese workers in the logging industry is RMB 8,000 – 12,000 (about USD 1,210 – 1,815). In comparison, the pay North Korean laborers receive for their work is remarkably low. 

North Korean laborers at Li-Ning contractors in Dandong also receive less than the average monthly wage of North Korean workers in China of RMB 2,800 – 3,200 (USD 423 – 484). 

Furthermore, these workers suffer from long hours and high-intensity labor, a situation criticized even in China as “slave labor.” 

“North Korean laborers in Dandong work every day from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM. After eating dinner, they go back to work from 8 PM to 10 PM,” the source said. “The intensity of labor there is terribly high and they work like machines without even one day of rest.” 

Chinese laborers working like this would earn RMB 200 (around USD 30) per day, which comes to RMB 5,000 – 6,000 (around USD 756 – 907) per month; however, North Korean laborers do not even earn RMB 100 (around USD 15) per day for the same work, he said. 

“Chinese companies say they can’t make any clothes without North Korean laborers. Nearly all Chinese clothing companies in China hire North Koreans,” the source added. 

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), part of the US Department of Homeland Security, revealed on Mar. 15 through its homepage that it will seize goods manufactured by Li-Ning at all US ports of entry in compliance with the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.” According to the agency, the decision to do this came after confirmation that Li-Ning used North Korean labor in the process of manufacturing its goods.

According to the source, the sanctions have not led to an immediate change in the work environment at the factory in Dandong.

“Because the US is not Li-Ning’s primary customer, and due to the fact that the measures have only recently been implemented, it has not yet made a difference and the factories are still operating without issue,” the source said. “We’ll have to wait a month or two to see if these sanctions will have any effect on North Korean workers.”

Translated by Jason Mallet. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.