‘Modern slavery’: Canadian retailer removes clothes allegedly made by North Korean forced labor in China

Reitmans canadian retail giant

On Friday, retail giant Reitmans (Canada) Limited announced it is removing all the clothes made by a Chinese factory that allegedly employs North Korean laborers from its stores.

What happened: In its statement, the company, which has more than 400 outlets in Canada, said it had already severed its ties with Dandong Huayang Textiles and Garments Limited at the end of 2020, according to WION.

  • The factory is located in the city of Dandong, which is near the border of North Korea and China.
  • “We are shaken by these new allegations about the presence of North Korean guest workers in what appears to be Dandong Huayang Textiles and Garments Ltd. factories,” the company said. “As such, we believe that we made the right decision at the end of 2020 to proactively stop issuing new business purchase orders with this supplier.”
  • The retail company also said it will “pull all remaining inventory” of the different styles originating from Dandong Huayang. It will then donate these clothes to local charities. “We are committed to continuously strengthening our supplier risk assessment and control processes, including our auditing program,” the company added.

(To view the statement below, you must click and look through the social media platform.)

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Uncovering the secrets: CBC Marketplace published an investigative piece on Friday, giving details about what was uncovered, including the illegal employment of North Korean workers.

  • “The allegation is that North Korean citizens were being brought into China, held at the factory, several of the key elements of forced labor were present,” Ed Fox, assistant port director of the Port of New York and New Jersey, told the publication. “There was debt-bondage, they were restricted in terms of movement, their travel documents had been seized.”
  • Although the factory denied the allegations, CBC Marketplace reportedly deployed two teams to the area in the summer and recorded conversations that allegedly confirmed the presence of forced North Korean labor — akin to “modern slavery” — in Dandong Huayang.
  • The U.N. Security Council banned the employment of these workers after North Korea launched several ballistic missiles. The council said the wages these workers bring in are used to fund the regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
  • Remco Breuker, an expert in contemporary North Korea, estimated that the nation’s government directly and indirectly uses around 70 to 100% of wages it receives from overseas workers to support its nuclear program.
  • “These workers can work 12 to 16 hours on a daily basis. And if deadlines need to be met they can work for 24 hours,” Breuker said. “There are reports of people just dropping, falling down from exhaustion.”
  • While the U.S. has already set laws in some states that ban modern-day slavery, Canada has yet to pass such bills that put the responsibility on the shoulders of retailers through self-regulating.
  • “We’re far behind other countries, and that makes me really sad because as a Canadian, I think we don’t have much excuse for being that far behind,” Canadian Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne said. “Some companies will do their best, others will do the minimum. But we have to do something as a country.”

Featured Image via Whpq (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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