A Closer Look at DPRK Foreign Labor in Russia

Eurasia Analyst Team

The Kim regime continues to profit through the export of foreign laborers. Tens of thousands of DPRK nationals are sent to work in low-paying jobs abroad each year, with the government recovering most of their wages. In Russia, these so-called “guest workers” have been well-documented by journalists and government agencies, and as of June 2017 numbered an estimated 30,000, according to a US State Department report.

Public records can help us identify the specific Russian parties employing these laborers. Every year, the Russian Ministry of Labor publishes the list of individuals and companies authorized to hire DPRK laborers, including details like tax IDs and the specific number of approved laborers. Between 2015 and 2018, the Ministry of Labor authorized 691 entities to hire up to 154,306 DPRK laborers. Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs claims that, as of September 2018, 19,559 DPRK citizens remain in Russia on work permits.

But, in the last year, the United Nations (UN) has taken steps to disrupt this revenue stream. Notably, UN Security Council Resolution 2375 of 11 September 2017 banned Member States from providing work authorizations for DPRK nationals, other than those for whom written contracts had been finalized prior to the adoption of the resolution. This was followed by UN Security Council Resolution 2397 of 22 December 2017, which mandated that all DPRK laborers be repatriated within two years.

Despite these resolutions, the Russian federal government continues to authorize the hiring of DPRK laborers. On 30 July 2018, the Ministry of Labor published authorizations for 57 unique Russian entities to hire a total of 4,103 DPRK laborers for 12 month terms. A few notes about these 57 companies:

– They operate primarily in the construction, textile, timber, agriculture, and food service industries.

– Around half of these companies are owned by DPRK nationals and, therefore, are likely beneficially owned and/or controlled by the DPRK government.

– They include several companies with ties to the West, including both a Russian construction company that is a subsidiary of a major Austrian construction firm, and one of the largest greenhouse agriculture complexes in Europe.

The Russian government asserts that these new labor authorizations do not violate UN Resolution 2375. In an interview given in September 2018, the head of the Main Department of Migration at the Ministry of Internal Affairs stated, “The provision of the resolution does not apply to work permits for DPRK citizens, for which written contracts were finalized before the adoption of the resolution.” In other words, they claim that all 57 companies authorized to hire DPRK laborers in 2018 are doing so under contracts signed prior to 11 September 2017.

Data confirms that all 57 companies were authorized to hire DPRK laborers in 2017 as well as 2018, which suggests they did have contracts prior to 11 September 2017; whether the UN Security Council and other Member States accept Russia’s interpretation of the resolution remains to be seen.

 

 


The public records data that powered this research is available through Sayari Search. If you’re curious how this data could drive insights for your team, or for details on the specific individuals and companies discussed above, please reach out here.