Criminal complaint against Dutch ship-building firm for allegedly profiting from exploitation of North Korean labourers

November 8, 2018

Summary 

A North Korean labourer who endured years of slave-like conditions working for Polish company ‘Crist S.A.’, a supplier of a Dutch ship-building firm, has filed a legal complaint against the Dutch firm. It was argued that the Dutch firm knew about the inhumane, slave-like conditions that Crist workers are subjected to, but still went ahead with ordering ship components at a lower cost. 

 

The action relied on the research of Remco Breuker and Imke van Gardingen at the LeidenAsiaCentre in Leiden University and was supported by the Global Legal Action Network and the Freedom Fund, with the law firm Prakken d’Oliveira representing the plaintiff.

 

Context

Forced labourers are exploited by companies in order to keep operating costs down and profits up. North Korea regularly sends its citizens to foreign countries in a controlled manner where they are exploited as a cheaper source of labour. Most are heavily vetted by the regime and once they begin working overseas must forfeit their wages to the regime, relinquish their passport, work long hours at lesser pay in unsafe conditions, and live in conditions of effective imprisonment.

 

The Case

A North Korean labourer who endured years of slave-like conditions working for Polish company ‘Crist S.A.’, a supplier of a Dutch ship-building firm, has filed a legal complaint against the Dutch firm. The labourer argues that the Dutch firm knew about the inhumane, slave-like conditions that workers are subjected to, but still went ahead with ordering ship components at a lower cost.

 

The labourer endured 12 hour workdays in unsafe conditions, and had much of his wages seized by the North Korean state. Reports by Polish labour inspectors revealed that health and safety regulations were routinely flouted, resulting in accidents and at least one fatality.

 

Dutch law offers a unique provision which criminalises the act of “profiting” from exploitation. This opens the possibility to hold those companies accountable which are not direct perpetrators in the labour exploitation, but which nonetheless knowingly profit from this exploitation, gaining high profits in the West at the expense of workers from developing countries

 

Objectives of action

This is a potentially ground-breaking complaint that puts on notice those companies who continue to knowingly profit from modern slavery. The case highlights significant gaps in labour protections within the European Union and  the lack of remedies available to affected workers forced labour.  By taking this case forward, the Netherlands has a clear opportunity to highlight and enforce corporate accountability for human rights harms in their supply chains and deliver justice.

 

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© 2019 GLAN | Global Legal Action Network. Registered charity (No. 1167733) 

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