US Customs vows to block imports made by North Korea workers

Published: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 12:41 AM
Updated: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 12:39 AM

as well as any other goods — produced by North Korean laborers who work in China.

An Associated Press investigation tracked salmon, squid and cod processed by North Koreans working at Chinese factories and shipped to American stores, including Walmart and ALDI. The North Korean workers found in Chinese factories aren't allowed to leave, and receive only a fraction of their pay — most goes straight to the North Korean state. This means that American consumers buying seafood labeled "Caught in the USA, Processed in China" may inadvertently be subsidizing the government of Kim Jong Un as it builds nuclear weapons, and also supporting forced labor.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it is reviewing the allegations and if warranted, would "pursue all enforcement actions and prohibit goods from importation as appropriate." The companies that responded also vowed to investigate ties with suppliers.

At this point anything made by North Korean workers anywhere is presumed to be made with forced labor, the State Department said in a statement Friday.

"North Koreans sent overseas do not have a choice in the work; the government ultimately assigns them and they are not free to change jobs," said the statement, noting that wages and passports are typically withheld by North Korean supervisors.

GOP Congressman Chris Smith from New Jersey, who has repeatedly called for tougher enforcement, said the Labor Department has already identified trafficking in 12 sectors of goods exported by China.

"CBP should be stopping every shipment from those sectors — and now trafficking-tainted salmon too," he said.

A White House National Security Council spokesman said the North Korean government's scheme to outsource its labor underscores why the United States has pushed for restrictions on North Korean foreign workers. The spokesman said all countries should, at a minimum, ban companies from bringing in North Korean crews, as pledged in recent United Nations sanctions.

China is among the countries that have promised to comply, already banning imports of North Korean seafood, and saying no more North Korean workers will be allowed starting next year.

"But all nations must go further and reject what is clearly a despicable practice that only serves the regime's nuclear ambitions," said the NSC spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to comment.

Walmart said its supplier has addressed the problem, although it did not specify how. Walmart and ALDI said they are committed to human rights and fair labor practices, and expect the same from their business partners.

At a time when North Korea faces sanctions on many exports, the government is sending tens of thousands of workers worldwide, bringing in revenue estimated at anywhere from $200 million to $500 million a year. That could account for a sizable portion of North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs, which South Korea says have cost more than $1 billion.

North Koreans overseas work in construction in the Gulf states, shipbuilding in Poland, logging in Russia. In Uruguay, authorities told AP, about 90 North Koreans crewed fishing boats last year.

"I am not surprised at all," said Anthony Talbott, who directs the University of Dayton's Human Rights Center. "North Korea has probably the single highest level of state-sanctioned slavery in the world, it's a major source of income for them."

Among those North Korean laborers in China, roughly 3,000 are believed to work in the northeast industrial hub of Hunchun, just a few miles from the borders of both North Korea and Russia. AP documented North Koreans in several Hunchun seafood processing plants, and tracked their supply chains to importers, including Sea-Trek Enterprises in Rhode Island, where managers said they are being inundated with phone calls from customers and suppliers since the AP story.

Sea-Trek's owners said that they hadn't visited China and were unaware of the makeup of the workers, but would immediately cease dealings with the plant until the situation is resolved.

"Sea-Trek will not purchase product from any company using forced labor," said vice president Mitch Sarnoff.

Mark Liszt, owner of Lawrence Wholesale, a national food distributor in Southern California, said it would investigate its suppliers as well.

"We're middlemen," said Liszt. "We do make a practice of trying to go and visit the plants that we buy from in person, but it's not a perfect world that we can see into every single one."

Some U.S. brands and companies had indirect ties to the North Korean laborers in Hunchun, including Chicken of the Sea, owned by Thai Union. Trade records show shipments came from a sister company of the Hunchun factory in another part of China, where Thai Union spokeswoman Whitney Small says labor standards are being met and the employees are all Chinese. Small said the sister company should not be penalized.

AP observed North Korean workers in Chinese factories building hardwood flooring, sewing garments and manufacturing electronics. Fordham University economics professor Giacomo Santangelo said he doubts it's just fish processed by North Korean workers that reaches the U.S. markets.

"Now we need to ask, how many other products imported from China are made with North Korean labor?" he said.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York said U.S. officials must keep products made by North Koreans out of the United States.

"The administration needs to ramp up the pressure on China to crack down on trade with North Korea across the board," he said.

Ohio's Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who helped pass North Korea, Iran and Russia sanctions this summer, said corporations also have a responsibility to make sure they are abiding by U.N. sanctions and U.S. laws.

However, Bucknell University political science professor Zhiqun Zhu said a sanction-based approach that cracks down on imports isn't going to solve the problem.

"It has so many loopholes," he said. "All sticks and no carrots will not make the North Korea problem disappear."

___

Read earlier story in seafood investigation — http://bit.ly/2kof26j — and more in the series: https://www.apnews.com/tag/RepublicofKim

Trending - Most Read Stories

House Oversight Committee launches probe into Rob Porter's employment

Published: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 @ 2:40 PM

Who is Rob Porter?

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating the White House’s employment of staff secretary Rob Porter in the wake of allegations that he abused his two ex-wives, committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, said Wednesday.

>> Read more trending news

Porter submitted his resignation Feb. 2.

Gowdy told CNN that the committee launched a probe Tuesday night into Porter’s employment and when White House officials knew about the domestic violence allegations levied against him.

Porter has denied any wrongdoing.

"We are directing inquiries to people that we think have access to information we don't have. You can call it official. You can call it unofficial,” Gowdy told CNN. “I'm going to direct questions to the FBI that I expect them to answer.”

Porter resigned Feb. 2 after his ex-wives went public with allegations of domestic abuse and said they spoke with federal authorities about the claims, prompting critics to question why he had remained employed in the Trump administration. The allegations held up a background check needed to grant Porter a security clearance for work in the White House. Officials said he was working on an interim security clearance.

The process to get Porter his clearance was ongoing at the time of his resignation.

“How do you have any job if you have credible allegations of domestic abuse?” Gowdy asked on CNN. “I am biased toward the victim.”

>> Related: White House ‘could have done better’ handling Rob Porter allegations, spokesman says

Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, and his second, Jennifer Willoughby, told the FBI about the alleged domestic violence in January 2017, after they were contacted while Porter was applying for his security clearance, according to The Washington Post.

White House officials defended Porter in the immediate aftermath of the allegations, and President Donald Trump has faced criticism for what critics called his lack of care for the victims and his focus on the fact that Porter has denied the claims.

“I was surprised by (the allegations), but we certainly wish him well, and it’s a tough time for him,” Trump told reporters in Washington on Friday. “He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career. … It was very said when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad now. He also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that.”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with White House Secretary Rob Porter (C) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) (R) as they return to the White House December 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)(Pool/Getty Images)

Holderness told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive throughout their relationship, which started in 2000, but that things escalated after they were wed in June 2003. She said Porter kicked her during their honeymoon and during a 2005 vacation in Italy, punched her in the face.

Willoughby, who married Porter in November 2009 and separated from him in early 2010, told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive.

Willoughby obtained a protective order against Porter in June 2010 after she said he violated their separation agreement and refused to leave her apartment, according to court records obtained by The Daily Mail. In the complaint, Willoughby said Porter punched in a glass door while she was locked inside the apartment, but left after he heard she was on the phone with police.

She told the Mail that in December 2010, he dragged her out of a shower while she was naked in order to yell at her.

The couple was divorced in 2013.

Related

Trending - Most Read Stories

Veteran resident dies, receives patriotic farewell from nursing home

Published: Saturday, February 10, 2018 @ 12:20 PM

File image of the American flag.
Christopher Bruno, Freeimages
File image of the American flag.(Christopher Bruno, Freeimages)

A veterans nursing home in South Carolina honored a resident who died this week with a patriotic farewell that has gone viral.

>> Read more trending news 

In a Facebook post, Laura Dorn thanked the Richard M. Campbell Veterans Nursing Home in Anderson for taking such good care of her father, Doug Timmons, who had Alzheimer's disease and was a resident of the facility for the last three years. Dorn wrote that her father died early Thursday morning and the staff took the time to honor him for his service as his body was removed from the facility. In a video that Dorn posted, Timmons' body, draped with an American flag, is wheeled out as staff line up and a musical tribute plays.

In a Facebook review of the nursing home, Dorn thanked the "caring, accommodating and selfless" staff who she said treated her father like family. Dorn wrote, "They treated my Dad with dignity and respect from the first moment there until he drew his last breath, then sent him off with a hero's procession."

The video has received more than 3 million views.

Trending - Most Read Stories

Trump thanks Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats

Published: Friday, August 11, 2017 @ 4:16 PM

President Donald Trump walks to Marine One before departing from the White House on August 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump is traveling to Bedminster, N.J. for his summer break. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
President Donald Trump walks to Marine One before departing from the White House on August 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump is traveling to Bedminster, N.J. for his summer break. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Thursday said that he is “very thankful” that Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to expel hundreds of U.S. diplomats, telling reporters in New Jersey that the decision will help the U.S. cut down on salaries.

>> Read more trending news

“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go a large number of people because now we will have a smaller payroll,” Trump said, according to The Washington Post. “There’s no real reason for them to go back. … We’re going to save a lot of money.”

The comments were Trump’s first addressing Putin’s decision last month to expel 755 diplomats and technical personnel from the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Russia, according to The Post.

Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 included a 29 percent cut of State Department funding, NPR reported.

But White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an email to The New York Times on Friday that the president was making a joke.

“He was being sarcastic,” she told the newspaper.

Still, some lawmakers questioned Trump’s decision to praise Putin.

“After weeks of silence regarding Vladimir Putin's outrageous expulsion of hundreds of U.S. embassy personnel, President Trump once again let Russia off the hook and instead insulted America’s diplomats,” Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

“No doubt, the President's staff will eventually try to clean up after the parade by claiming it was a joke, but there's nothing funny about this,” he said.

According to Politico, “many, if not most, of the positions cut will likely be those of locally hired Russian staffers. The local staff who are let go will likely get severance payments, but cost savings are possible in the long run.”

Unidentified sources told the news site that most of the U.S. diplomats made to leave Russia will be moved to different posts.

Putin’s decision to kick American diplomats out of the country came in retaliation for sanctions placed on Russia by the U.S. Trump signed the bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support and required congressional approval to lift the restrictions, although he criticized it as being “seriously flawed.”

Vladimir Putin - Fast Facts

Related

Trending - Most Read Stories

Photo shows Michigan congresswoman playing Candy Crush during State of the Union

Published: Saturday, February 03, 2018 @ 2:58 PM

Highlights of President Trump’s First State of the Union Address

A Democratic congresswoman from Michigan was caught playing Candy Crush on her phone during Tuesday's State of the Union address.

A Getty photographer captured U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence playing the game on her iPhone during President Trump's address, the Detroit Free Press reported. Other photographs taken during the address show many legislators using their phones.

>> Read more trending news 

Lawrence is a former mayor of Southfield, Michigan. She was elected to Congress in 2014 to represent Michigan's 14th District and is in her second term, the Free Press reported. Her office did not respond to the Free Press for a request for comment on the photo.

Trending - Most Read Stories