U.S. ready to crack down on seafood imports after North Korea worker exposé

A federal agency that serves as the gatekeeper to the United States is planning changes after discovering that some seafood imported from China is produced by North Korean laborers.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement it is ready to block U.S. imports of seafood produced by North Korean laborers after an Associated Press investigation tracked salmon, squid, and cod sold at Walmart, ALDI, and other U.S. stores to North Korean laborers working in Chinese factories.

In the Associated Press investigation, workers were processing seafood for a company that provides products for both Walmart and ALDI. The workers are paid very little and most of the workers’ wages are kept by the North Korean government. 

“While the presence of North Korean workers overseas has been documented, the AP investigation reveals for the first time that some products they make go to the United States, which is now a federal crime,” the AP reported, also noting that products were also being shipped to Canada and Europe.

As a result, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it is reviewing the allegations and said that, if it is warranted, it would "pursue all enforcement actions and prohibit goods from importation as appropriate,” according to an Associated Press article.

SeafoodSource attempted to reach Aldi for comment but was unsuccessful. Walmart told SeafoodSource it no longer imports fish from a Hunchun, China-based factory that employed North Korean workers in what were reported to be “slave-like conditions.”

“We audited and investigated this facility and, gave it a ‘Red’ rating earlier this year for failing to cooperate with the investigation, which means that suppliers cannot use the facility to produce products for sale by Walmart,” Marilee McInnis, international corporate affairs, global communication for Walmart, told SeafoodSource. “We have a system in place to assess suppliers' disclosed factories for compliance with our standards and take appropriate action when we do identify issues that need to be addressed.”

“The welfare and dignity of workers is very important to us, and we are working in several ways to help combat the use of forced labor in global supply chains,” McInnis added.

The North Korean government’s scheme to outsource labor is the reason why the U.S. has pushed for restrictions on North Korea foreign workers, a White House National Security Council spokesman told the Associated Press. All countries should ban companies from bringing in North Korean work crews, as pledged in recent United Nations sanctions, according to the spokesman.

The U.S. Labor Department has identified trafficking in 12 sectors of goods exported by China, said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) in the Associated Press article. 

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


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