North Korean forced laborer sues Dutch company

A North Korean laborer who worked at a polish shipyard under horrible circumstances filed a lawsuit against a Dutch company who had built ship hulls there. According to the man, the company was aware of the poor, almost slave-like, working conditions, reports.

Law firm Prakken D'Oliveira, who is representing the North Korean man, announced the lawsuit in a statement on Thursday. The name of the Dutch company is not mentioned, as not to hinder the Public Prosecutor in an eventual criminal investigation. The man's name is withheld for his own safety, the law firm said.

The man worked for Polish company Crist S.A., a prominent shipyard in Europe, for years. The Dutch company built and repaired hulls there, even after it became known that North Korean workers were working on the site under degrading and dangerous conditions, according to the complaint. 

An investigation by the Polish Labor Inspectorate revealed that safety and health regulations were systematically ignored at the shipyard. This resulted in at least one fatal accident. According to the North Korean laborer, he had to work in those unsafe conditions for 12 hours a day and the majority of his salary was paid directly to the North Korean state.

"This declaration, which focuses on labor exploitation in the chain, makes it crystal clear for multinational companies that benefit from forced labor that these practices can have serious legal consequences", Gearóid Ó Cuinn, director of human rights organization Global Legal Action Network, said, according to the newspaper. "This case reminds us once again that more needs to be done within Europe, because slavery thrives here too."

The North Korean regime sends workers to dozens of countries around the world, where they are used as cheap labor. Recent studies estimate that a total of 150 thousand North Korean workers are currently abroad. They are often forced to work and live under harrowing conditions that actually amount to slavery. ​

Remco Breuker, professor of Korean Studies at Leiden University, conducted research into North Korean forced labor. He found that Dutch ships were built by North Korean slaves. He calls the country "the largest illegal employment agency in the world", according to the newspaper.