A North Korean worker based overseas has filed a criminal complaint against a Dutch firm for allegedly profiting from modern slavery, the human rights law firm Prakken d’Oliveira announced in a press release on Thursday.
The firm detailed the complaint and its representation of the North Korean man on its website, saying the laborer – who could not be named for safety reasons – endured 12-hour work days in unsafe conditions and with the DPRK government seizing much of his wages.
The Dutch firm could also not be named, though the North Korean individual was identified by Prakken d’Oliveira as having worked for years for the Polish company “Crist S.A.”, which operates as a shipyard in Poland.
“It was argued that the Dutch firm knew about the inhumane, slave-like conditions that Crist workers are subjected to, but still went ahead with ordering ship components at a lower cost,” the press release read.
Barbara Van Straaten, the lawyer representing the North Korean individual, further explained in the release that Dutch law criminalizes the act of “profiting” from exploitation.
“This opens the possibility to hold those companies accountable which are not direct perpetrators in the labour exploitation, but which nonetheless knowingly profit from this exploitation, gaining high profits in the West at the expense of workers from developing countries’,” Van Straaten is quoted as saying.
Speaking to NK News on Thursday, Van Straaten also confirmed that there has been no contact with the DPRK government regarding the case.
“We are filing the complaint on behalf of the worker, he is my client and we have been in contact with him but we haven’t been in contact with anyone from the regime,” she said.
“The complaint is directed at the Dutch shipbuilder and in that sense, North Korea is in no way a party to this dispute,” she added.
In protecting the identity of its client, the law firm was also not able to provide further information on the individual, including confirmation of whether or not he is a defector and subsequently holds foreign citizenship or legal status.
Crist’s involvement with North Korean laborers as well as conditions faced by DPRK laborers in Poland and Europe were detailed in a landmark report published by the Leiden Asia Center authored by Remco Breuker and Imke Van Gardingen.
In both the press release and conversations with NK News, Prakken d’Oliveira cited the research conducted in the “Slaves to the System” report as central to the case.
“This is the first time, to my knowledge, that a North Korean laborer – indirectly really – complained about his own government by filing a complaint against the alleged enablers of this type of labor exploitation,” Brueker, who is not a party to the case, told NK News on Thursday.
“Even if the case itself wouldn’t lead to any sort of legal conclusion, I would hope that this serves as a notice to companies who think they’re in the clear because they are indirectly using forced labor and profiting from labor exploitations,” he added.
In recent years further reports and investigations – including additional research at the Leiden Asian Center – have detailed forced labor conditions faced by North Korean workers deployed overseas by the DPRK Government to generate currency.
Such practices have also been noted at the UN and in the reports of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea.
In a February 2017 report, the Special Rapporteur 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.”
Estimates vary regarding the number of workers based overseas and, while organizations have reported higher figures, the U.S. Department of State in April placed the number at 100,000.
The Dutch public prosecutor’s office was unable to respond to questions in time for publication, regarding the complaint or if it was filing a case against the Dutch company.
While the prospects for the case are as yet unclear, Breuker told NK News that he hopes that it will help to improve North Korean labor conditions for workers outside of the country.
“The one thing I really like about this is the agency of the North Korean laborer,” he said. “This complaint was not brought by an organization on behalf of many North Koreans, this was somebody who basically took his destiny in his own hands and decided he would do this.”
“In North Korean punditry and academia…we usually talk for North Koreans instead of North Koreans representing North Koreans and its good to have North Koreans speaking out for themselves and taking action on their own behalf so I find that hopeful.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 808 words of this article.
Featured Image: Cranes by kusmierz on 2009-10-03 06:11:45