The Malta Independent 1 June 2016, Wednesday

Alleged exploitation of North Korean workers in Malta highlighted in European Parliament

Kevin Schembri Orland Thursday, 18 February 2016, 11:20 Last update: about 4 months ago

German MEP and Chair of the EU Parliamentary Committee on Employment and Social Affairs Thomas Handel has drawn attention to the alleged exploitation of North Korean workers in Malta, sending letters to a number of EU agencies.

The Leisure Clothing case was one that shocked the island, when the case went before the courts, allegations of sub-standard working conditions, low wages and misappropriation of wages were made

The first letter sent by the German MEP, sent to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, reads that German broadcaster ARD, on January 16, 2016, reported about “extreme forms” of exploitation of North Korean workers in Malta, and said that similar exploitation might occur in other countries such as Poland or the Czech Republic.

“Such forms of exploitation are shocking and cannot be tolerated in the European Union. I would like to bring the matter to your attention and I should like to invite you to ensure that your Agency gives the appropriate follow-up on this issue”.

A similar letter was also sent to the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility Marianne Thyssen, and asks her to raise the issue with the competent national authorities “where there is concrete evidence so that the necessary remedies are taken without delay”.

Yet another letter was sent to Mr Guy Ryder, Director-general of the International Labour Organisation.

PN MEP David Casa told this newsroom that “the concerns of the Chairman of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, Thomas Händel, with regard to exploitation of North Korean workers in Mata were brought to my attention in my capacity as EPP Coordinator on the Employment Committee. I am aware of letters the chairman has sent to the relevant European Commissioner as well as to the Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and the Director-general of the International Labour Organisation”.

“We will now await the reaction of these bodies to understand what measures, if any, will be taken. It is clear that any violation of human rights and the abuse of workers should be investigated rigorously by the Maltese authorities and those responsible brought to justice. I urge the Maltese people to be vigilant and to report any suspicion of abuse."

The project ‘Facing Finance’, which identifies companies worldwide that profit form breaching international norms and standards concerning human- and labour rights, environmental protection, controversial weapons and corruption, has also mentioned the situation in a bulletin post.

“According to the German radio channel Deutschlandfunk, Vietnamese, Chinese and North Korean workers are being exploited in a Maltese textile factory, ‘Leisure Clothings’, which produces luxury goods for brands like Armani,” Facing Finance wrote.

“Instead of receiving the mandatory minimum wage of €700 per month, the workers are paid €75 for working 14 hours a day, with only one free day every two weeks”.

“The workers are usually sent by state-run agencies in their respective countries. Leisure Clothings is a subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned enterprise CICET, therefore the North Koreans are transferred to the Maltese factory by Chinese intermediaries. According to newspaper articles, currently there are around 1.000 North Koreans who are exploited in countries within the European Union. In addition to Malta, Polish companies have also been accused of using forced labour”.

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