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41 North Koreans toiling at Leisure Clothing

The exploitation of North Korean workers was recently flagged by the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea, which accused Malta and Poland of employing “forced labour” from North Korea. 

james
James Debono
12 November 2015, 8:25am
41 North Koreans are currently working at Leisure Clothing, the Chinese company facing allegations of exploitation and human trafficking.

A total of 10 applications were approved this year, ETC chairman Clyde Caruana confirmed. All 10 were approved in January. No further permits for North Korean workers have been issued since then. In November last year ETC told MaltaToday that 26 North Koreans were employed at Leisure Clothing.  

The exploitation of North Korean workers was recently flagged by the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea, which accused Malta and Poland of employing “forced labour” from North Korea. 

The report alleged that North Korean workers routinely toil under poor conditions, with much of their wages deducted automatically to subsidise Kim Jong-Un’s regime. While most of the 50,000 North Koreans on such schemes are currently working in Asian and Middle Eastern countries – some 1,800 are believed to be helping Qatar in its preparations for the 2022 World Cup – up to 1,000 may be working in the EU, the report’s authors said. 

In another report to the UN General Assembly, Marzuki Darusman, United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, revealed that North Korean  workers are being used as a new source of income for the North Korean government. 

Darusman claimed that these workers earn $120-$150 per month on average and are sometimes forced to work up to 20 hours a day, with only one or two rest days a month and insufficient food.  Employers pay “significantly higher amounts” to the North Korean government, he claimed.

Questions sent to the Department for Industrial and Employment Relations (DIER) and Identity Malta on whether these international reports are being investigated locally have not been answered.  

The ETC replied that responsibility for investigating such reports falls under DIER’s remit.

Identity Malta became responsible for the issue of employment licences to third country nationals residing in Malta as from July 2014. The applications are still reviewed by the ETC.

Work licences for Chinese employed at Leisure Clothing have been issued automatically since 1986 thanks to a quota agreement between the company and the government, which logs the number Maltese employees to that of Chinese employees according to a pre-established ratio, which was originally set at four Chinese workers for each Maltese worker employed. The agreement was renewed by successive Nationalist administrations.

Last year the newly elected Labour government changed the quota agreement to enable the company to employ five Chinese nationals for every Maltese employed.   A drop in Chinese workers during the past years was also compensated by an increase of workers from other South Asian countries. Workers from Vietnam and North Korea have only been employed since 2013. 

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...