Why is weed legal in North Korea

The North Korean guest workers

If you want to get a job outside the country in North Korea, you have to buy this privilege with plenty of bribes and vitamin B. Even the sons and daughters of the middle party elite are scrambling for simple miner and waiter jobs. These lure not only with an above-average wage, but also with the unique opportunity to leave the borders of the country behind for a certain period of time.

The trained carpenter Rim Il worked on construction sites in Kuwait for five months before fleeing via the South Korean embassy in 1997. At the press conference of a human rights organization in Seoul, the North Korean said of his time as a migrant worker: "Our life was nothing but slavery".

Money for the regime

As early as the Soviet era, North Koreans were working as loggers in Siberia to pay off the country's debts. Today they serve in Chinese restaurants, erect monuments for African dictators or are exploited in Czech textile factories. In 2012, the Seoul-based NGO North Korea Strategy Center published a report that up to 65,000 North Koreans work in over 40 countries. They bring the regime up to $ 230 million annually.

The number of guest workers is said to have risen sharply since Kim Jong-un ruled the country. Human rights organizations suspect that Pyongyang is trying to circumvent the increasingly rigid sanctions in this way. The wages of the workers would partially finance the luxury goods of the party cadre, claims the South Korean NGO NK Watch. A report by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies said returning workers are being used as couriers to bring foreign cash into the country.

Human trafficking ring

Her most drastic accusation is that Pyongyang would, like an internationally operating human trafficking ring, exploit parts of its population as slaves. However, this point is controversial.

The crucial question is above all that of fair wages. Even if North Korean workers on Russian construction sites only get a fraction of their pay compared to locals and at the same time have to work longer shifts, they can save an average of 300 dollars a month, according to North Korea expert Andrei Lankov. Domestically, the average family household would earn a maximum of $ 50 a month.

Constant monitoring

For Lankov there is only one reason to restrict North Korean workers' exports, as he writes in the specialist medium "NK News": because they represent an essential source of foreign currency income for the regime. It is dishonest that it is about the liberation of modern work slaves, because most workers are happy that they are allowed to work abroad.

However, human rights groups paint a contrary picture: workers work twelve hours or more, seven days a week. They are constantly monitored and only receive a fraction of their promised payment. Hardly anyone would flee because their families were threatened with imprisonment in North Korea.

Better than home

When Rim Il asked about his wages in Kuwait, his supervisor made him think of the starving people back home and be glad that he was getting three full meals here. He was paid only once in his five months: on the occasion of Kim Jong-il's birthday celebrations, the superiors handed each worker $ 65 to buy cigarettes.

Despite everything, workers are doing better abroad than at home, claims one of North Korea's most renowned experts. Human rights organizations, on the other hand, complain that North Korean migrants are victims of modern slavery. They don't contradict each other. (Fabian Kretschmer, derStandard.at, February 20, 2015)