Choco Pie distribution to be cut down at Kaesong

Fewer pies may mean less income on black market for workers
September 17th, 2013

SEOUL – The distribution of Choco Pie snacks to North Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex is to be limited due to new regulations, cutting a source of income for some workers who profit by reselling them.

Due to financial difficulties at Kaesong caused by the complex’s five-month halt in operations, a tight new budget will restrict the number of snacks workers can receive, the Kaesong Industrial Complex Company Association said.

As a result, the number of Choco Pies distributed will be reduced and North Korean workers – known to resell Choco Pies on the black market for a considerable profit – will have a major source of income cut.

As of August 2012, Kaesong workers were paid a minimum of a little more than $67 per month, and an average of $130 when all payments and bonuses were accounted for.

Before the closure of the complex, those working in chemical and heat treatment factories would receive five to 10 Choco Pies a day and those working night shifts would receive up to 20.

Choco Pies would then be resold on the black market for 500 to 600 North Korean won each.

However with the new regulations restricting each worker to $0.20 worth of snacks a day, the workers will receive a maximum of two Choco Pies.

A South Korean brand, Choco Pies are chocolate-covered, marshmallow-filled biscuits that are hugely popular among North Koreans – so much so that they can be resold for four to five times their original price.

South Korean companies used to distribute Choco Pies as snacks, but having seen work rates improve greatly after distributing them, they began to use them as rewards and incentives.

“To distribute cash incentives and bonuses is to step out of the North’s ideological border,” former National Defense University professor Kim Han-shik told NK News. “So South Koreans have devised an informal way of offering rewards and incentives and staying within that ideological border – Choco Pies.”

Other North Korea analysts have commented on the psychological meaning of Choco Pies to North Koreans:

“Choco Pies are an important mind-changing instrument,” professor and author Andrei Lankov told Britain’s Guardian newspaper in May. “It has become a symbol of South Korean prosperity – and North Koreans read it. They are suffering and starving, but thanks to Choco Pies, DVDs and large-scale labor migration to China, people don’t buy the old story (that the South is even poorer) and the government does not sell it any more.”

Picture: Steven Tom, Flickr Creative Commons 

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About the Author

Debbie Jeong

Debbie is an NK News contributor based in Seoul, currently studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Warwick