The initial findings of the Slaves to the System project have just been published at the LeidenAsiaCentre website. Peruse the report at your own risk, for it is a ‘grave provocation’ to the DPRK, an ‘act of hostility’ and an “attempt to damage the dignity” of the Supreme Leader. Judge for yourself and read the report. But first back up your hard drive, because if only one tenth of the stories about DPRK hackers is true, they are already listening in on your phone and watching you saving your precious bitcoins.
So what did we find? Initially, that is. How about: a high-ranking Pyongyang cadre involved in providing DPRK labourers to Polish companies of which he is a co-owner and then profiting from their labour? EU regional funds supporting companies who use DPRK forced labour? Ingenious employment constructions that make surprisingly efficient use of EU laws? Atrociously long working days, dangerous working environment, forced ideological sessions, no freedoms otherwise guaranteed by the EU? Forced, you ask, but they come willingly, don’t they? Yes, they do as far as I can tell. I couldn’t ask them because I would have endangered them (think about that one for a moment). That they volunteered tells me two things: 1. the situation in NK isn’t exactly what one would call hunky-dory. And 2. they don’t know what’s waiting for them.
I have been bombarded with indignant emails, explaining to me (well, more like EXPLAINING TO ME) that it’s easy to focus on the DPRK, because we’ve got it in for those poor, misunderstood Koreans. Why don’t we write about exploited Indians or Nepali? Well, I would if that were my expertise. If you want to know what’s happening in that field, feel free to contact my colleagues in South Asian Studies. Last time I checked my business card (which I do regularly because I have a huge ego), it said “Professor of Korean Studies.” So there you are.
But then , I don’t believe in comparing scars. I am fully aware that North Koreans aren’t the only ones who find themselves providing all too cheap labour to an international market that only cares about the quality and cost of the labour and not about the people involved. In fact, the subtitle of our report actually says so. So spare me the sanctimonious bovine faeces about North Koreans not being an exception. That’s one of the points we’re trying to make. I’ll talk to you again when you finished your report on what’s wrong in your neck of the woods.
Do I sound a bit too defensive? My bad, I meant to sound offensive (“Of, relating to, or designed for attack” that is, and not “Causing anger, displeasure, or resentment”, although that would be an added bonus). DPRK forced labour is a serious issue and the fact that it takes place in the EU should give us pause to think. To reconsider the DPRK and our relations with it. More generally, to do something about our addiction to cheap labour. Let’s start with giving those DPRK labourers the very same rights and freedoms we enjoy. I know, I’m just a naive scholar who doesn’t know the ways of the world. But j read the report and make up your own mind. Oh, and watch the excellent Vice documentary (here) and disregard any medium quoting me as saying that the DPRK makes billions of dollars in the EU through forced labour. I didn’t quite say that. Just read the report.