In this way, Americans may have been cluelessly subsidizing North Korea's nuclear program, which has largely been condemned by the global community. Yet the AP realized the seafood had gone through Canada, Germany and the European Union first, though it was only able to track specific shipments of seafood linked to North Korean workers.
German supermarket chain Aldi, which the article said also has imported seafood from Hunchun factories employing North Koreans, did not respond to questions from AFP.
At Chinese factories, North Korean workers aren't allowed to leave their compounds without permission, and must step from housing to factories in pairs or groups, with North Korean minders. North Korea takes up to 70 percent of the wages its workers make overseas, and uses the money to prop up the regime and its $1 billion nuclear weapons program.
China's implementation of new sanctions punishing North Korea for its nuclear and missile programs is now "literally expelling North Korean workers", a resident of China's border city of Dandong told RFA's Korean Service on Wednesday. That could account for a sizeable portion of its nuclear weapons and missile programmes, which South Korea says has cost well over $1 billion.
John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute, urged its 300 members, including the largest seafood importers in the US, to "ensure that wages go to the workers and are not siphoned off to support a risky dictator".
Some North Koreans work in Russian Federation or the Middle East, but the majority works in China.
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"Instead of making the goods in North Korea and trying to export them, which wouldn't work because of sanctions regime, you export the North Koreans", said Former Ambassador to Monitor & Combat Trafficking in Persons Luis CdeBaca. Some of those companies have already cut off those parts of their supply chains, others said they are investigating the matter.
Aldi said its United Kingdom stores are not linked to the factories.
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.
In response to the investigation, Senate leaders said on Wednesday that the USA needs to keep products made by North Koreans out of the United States and get China to refuse to hire North Korean workers.
Information for this article was contributed by Martha Mendoza, Leonardo Haberkorn, Han Guan Ng, Fu Ting, Kelvin K. Chan, Frank Jordans and Jon Gambrell of The Associated Press.