Wal-Mart says it stopped fish imports from N.Korea-linked plant

North Korean workers at this seafood processing plant in Hunchin Jilin province in north-eastern China wear blue overalls to distinguish them from Chinese workers. province. Ng Han Guan  AP

The authorities in a northeastern Chinese border city have secretly warned local firms they will be slapped with fines if they newly hire North Korean workers in violation of United Nations sanctions, amounting to 5,000 yuan ($750) per worker, sources familiar with the situation said Wednesday.

Aldi hasn't explained what its deal is yet, but the company's branches outside of America are already distancing themselves from tainted US salmon supplies, regardless: Aldi Australia reassured the Australian today that it "operates independently" from America, but "did not respond" when prompted to guarantee that no seafood had ever been processed by North Korean forced laborers. Aldi in Australia said it does not source any products from the factories in question. They must take the few steps to the factories in pairs or groups, with North Korean minders ensuring no one strays. As much as 70 percent of their pay is taken by the North Korean government, the article said.

Besides seafood, AP found North Korean laborers making wood flooring and sewing garments in factories in Hunchun. Those industries also export to the U.S. from Hunchun, but AP did not track specific shipments except for seafood.

Every Western company involved that responded to AP's requests for comment said forced labor and potentially supporting North Korea's weapons program was unacceptable in their supply chains. "The majority work in Russian Federation and China, but Middle Eastern, African, and other European and Asian countries also host North Korean laborers", the report explained.

"It is unbelievable that they would be going home in bright outfits with these smiles on their faces", RFA's source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

American companies aren't allowed to import products made by North Korean workers anywhere in the world, and companies doing business with them could face criminal charges for using North Korean workers or materially benefiting from their work.

In late September, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on eight North Korean banks and 26 executives, targeting North Koreans working as representatives of North Korean banks in China, Russia, Libya and the United Arab Emirates.

Often the fish arrives in generic packaging.

Some questionable products include salmon from Walmart or ALDI supermarkets under the brand name "Sea Queen".

Walmart spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said company officials banned their suppliers from getting seafood processed at a Hunchun plant a year ago after an audit revealed potential issues with migrant workers.

Some U.S. companies had indirect ties to North Korean laborers in Hunchun.

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