About the Author
View more articles by Hamish Macdonald
Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
Over 100 North Korean laborers were involved in the construction of a stadium for one of Russia’s largest football clubs, which will also be used in the 2018 World Cup, according to a Norwegian investigative report published on Tuesday.
The article, published by Josimar Football magazine, includes interviews with laborers of other nationalities who had observed North Koreans working longer hours than others on the site, while under intense surveillance and controls.
“Josimar can reveal that at least 110 North Koreans have worked at the Zenit Arena in St Petersburg, one of the venues for the 2018 World Cup Finals,” an introduction to the article reads.
“They lived in containers in an area no other workers had access to. They kept to themselves. They don’t speak Russian. And we don’t speak Korean. But they worked a lot. More than anybody else,” a worker on the site from Kyrgyzstan was quoted as saying.
The report says in mid-August of 2016, 60 North Korean workers – under the employ of a company called Dalpiterstroj – were sent to do “cosmetic work” on the stadium.
Dalpiterstroj specializes in building apartment complexes in the city of St Petersburg. Russian companies have previously advertised the use of North Korean workers for similar work in Vladivostok.
The article also quotes a Zenit Arena project manager who worked on the site and who says he was offered the use of North Korean workers at the stadium by a “middleman” facilitating their employment.
“He said he could provide 100 skilled North Korean workers who were prepared to work ‘around the clock’ until the end of the year. The price was six million roubles. Four million would be sent to the government of North Korea,” the individual identified as ‘Pavel’ said, adding that the workers would have been paid 600 roubles daily.
Six million roubles is the current equivalent $105,236 U.S. dollars, with 600 being worth $10.5 U.S. dollars per day.
Construction of the 68,000 seater stadium for Zenit Saint Petersburg began in 2006 but has experienced severe delays. By May 2016 it was only 85 percent complete, according to the stadium’s website.
One of the concerns which has hovered over the stadium’s construction is the use of migrant workers, with four reportedly dying on site since 2012. One of the casualties was identified as a North Korean male. According to the Associated Press in November 2016 the laborer died of heart failure.
In response to the ongoing concerns, the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Local Organising Committee (LOC) said it had taken measures along with FIFA to ensure the safety of construction workers.
FIFA and the LOC have “developed and implemented a unique tailor-made system for monitoring working conditions of workers engaged in the construction and renovation of ten 2018 FIFA World Cup stadiums, including the arena in Saint Petersburg,” the LOC media office was quoted by Josimar as saying.
Josimar also revealed details about North Korean laborers continuing to work on an apartment complex site in Shushary, south of Saint Petersburg. These North Koreans were again working on projects run by Dalpiterstroj.
“They are like robots. All they do is work, work, work. They work from seven in the morning until midnight. Every single day. They are never off. They are very good workers, but they look unhappy. They have no life,” an unnamed Russian worker at the complex said of the North Korean laborers on site.
“Their ‘camp’ is situated two or three hundred meters away from the construction site. Behind barbed wire fences partially surrounding a snow-covered area, outdated shipping containers have been placed,” the article added.
The exploitation of North Korean laborers overseas is a concern that has recently been highlighted at the UN, including by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea.
In his recent report he cited issues such as a substantial portion of worker salaries being diverted to the state, close surveillance of the workers who are also “allegedly subjected to serious violations of international labor standards, including long work hours, delayed and below-minimum payments, and lack of safety measures.”
Although Russia has long used North Korean labor in the country, recent reports indicate that will be further strengthened as the two countries signed a bilateral agreement to further facilitate the transfer of DPRK workers.
“North Korean overseas labor equals exploitation and is a form of modern slavery,” Professor Remco Breuker of Leiden University and co-author of the “Slaves to the System” report on North Korean overseas labor, told NK News.
“This has been well-established by now (although the slavery definition is still to some extent a matter debate). To put it bluntly: by signing an agreement with North Korea to send more workers to Russia, Russia is guilty of human trafficking,” he added.
Breuker told NK News that the International Labor Organization (ILO) should comment on the situation as Russia is a member, although North Korea is not.
“Apart from that, the only effective way to combat is to be uncompromising, which means boycotting the tournament and everything else connected to this exploitation,” he said.
NK News contacted the press office for the Zenit Stadium and FIFA for comment on the investigation and the North Korean laborers’ conditions, but at the time of publication had received no response. NK News was also unable to reach Zenit St Petersburg for comment.