North Koreans employed in ‘forced’ labour at two major Polish shipyards

An investigation by Vice has shone light on the employment of North Korean workers in “forced labour” conditions at the Crist and Nauta shipyards in Poland, with their wages funding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) regime.

The publication’s investigation began when a worker was killed after suffering 95% burns when his clothing caught fire in a welding accident at the Crist yard near Gdynia. The yard’s responsible work inspector Tomasz Rutkowski told Vice the accident was caused by inadequate working equipment and unsafe practices.

“Laborers are rarely allowed to leave work sites or to come into contact with locals throughout their periods of forced labor. Access to media is denied, communication with family members in North Korea is limited, and ideological indoctrination lessons are more pervasive than those conducted in the DPRK,” the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea said in a report published last September.

North Korean workers at the Crist shipyard told Vice they are not allowed to have cellphones or to have access to cash, but are permitted to travel home by bicycle in groups of three or more.

The workers’ wages are mostly paid in foreign currency direct to the DPRK, in order to bypass UN sanctions, according to the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea.

Crist specialises in the construction of jack-up rigs and barges, as well as general cargo vessels and tugs. Nauta (pictured), which is owned by MARS Shipyards & Offshore, builds small bulkers, tugboats, barges and also undertakes repair and conversion work. Both yards are located near Gdynia in Poland.

Between 2010 and 2015, the Crist and Nauta shipyards have received more than 70m ($79.2m) in loans or subsidies originating from the European Regional Development Fund, according to research by Leiden University. Some of the loans are under investigation for being given unlawfully, Vice reports.

North Korean workers are supplied to the two shipyards and other businesses in Poland by two companies, Armex and Alson, which are owned by Polish businesswoman Cecylia Kowalska, according to Polish National Labor Inspectorate (PIP) documents seen by Vice.

PIP found 14 different Polish companies using North Korean workers between 2010 and 2016.

A UN report published in 2015 estimated there are around 50,000 North Koreans currently working abroad, who earn between $1.2bn to $2.3bn per year for the DPRK’s Workers Party, although little is paid directly to workers themselves.


The full report and documentary film ‘Cash For Kim’ (in German; English subtitles available) can be viewed here.


Holly Birkett

Holly is Splash's Online Editor and correspondent for the UK and Mediterranean. She has been a maritime journalist since 2010, and has written for and edited several trade publications. She is currently studying for membership of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers. In 2013, Holly won the Seahorse Club's Social Media Journalist of the Year award. She is currently based in London.


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