C4ADS a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing data-driven analysis and evidence-based reporting on global conflict and transnational security issues has released a report on North Korean overseas labor.
Analysis shows that the people and companies that facilitate North Korea’s overseas labor program exhibit observable operational patterns within Russia and China—historically its two most important jurisdictions—that can empower law enforcement, industry, and civil society organizations to better identify suspicious behavior.
North Korean overseas labor has long been legal in most jurisdictions around the world. For decades, the North Korean regime has dispatched workers across East and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and even-according to some reports-North America. The US Mission to the United Nations estimates that as much as 80% of North Korea’s overseas workforce is located in China and Russia. While figures for overall revenue are highly disputed, some estimates suggest that North Korean laborers may generate as much as $1.2 to $2.3 billion USD per year for the Kim regime, which-if true-would be equivalent to as much as 93% of North Korea’s total exports in 2016. While North Korea’s labor export program has long constituted an important revenue stream for the regime, it has garnered extensive media attention and research interest almost exclusively because of reported human rights violations at worksites around the world.