When ‘made in China’ is Really ‘made in North Korea’

RipCurl, North Korea production. Image: Anjaly Thomas RipCurl, North Korea production. Image: Anjaly Thomas Anjaly Thomas in RipCurl Factory in North Korea. Image: Anjaly Thomas

By Kate | News
Posted Feb 23, 2016

When Anjaly Thomas was taken on factory tour in Pyongsung, North Korea in 2014 she was shocked to see a mainstream, Australian brand in production: RipCurl. Noting that the factory has been around since the 1970′s, first producing Russian orders, then Vietnamese uniforms, and then Japanese baby clothes it’s new clients are sub-contracted orders from China. In her blog, Travel with Anjaly, Thomas notes,

China… ‘provides’ electricity to run or set up certain factories which in turn employs workers at minimum wages (North Korea follows a system of compulsory employment) who slave for long hours and then some, to mass produce goods such as these below, which are then packed, labeled and send straight back to China to be distributed throughout the world. China profits because they do not pay much to the locals, not even half as much as they would pay their own people and North Korea is happy that their factories are rolling and people are employed somehow.

It is suggested that factory workers in North Korea are not compensated with cash but rather paid in food coupons they can redeem for rice or corn at government operated stores. This story not only highlights the tangled web of modern global supply chains, but shows how consumers become complicit in supporting slave labor; the North Korean factory was sewing in ‘made in China’ labels.

In their story, the Sidney Morning Heralds reported

After Fairfax Media sent Rip Curl photos of its garments being made in North Korea, the company’s chief financial officer Tony Roberts released a statement that said the firm “takes its social compliance obligations seriously”.

“We were aware of this issue, which related to our Winter 2015 Mountain-wear range, but only became aware of it after the production was complete and had been shipped to our retail customers.

“This was a case of a supplier diverting part of their production order to an unauthorised subcontractor, with the production done from an unauthorised factory, in an unauthorised country, without our knowledge or consent, in clear breach of our supplier terms and policies.

However, Nik Halik, a businessman who took a tour of the same factory, told Fairfax Media he also saw Rip Curl clothing being manufactured and affixed with ”Made in China” tags. According to Fairfax MediaHalik visited North Korea in July 2015, a year after Thomas.

Australia imports 90 percent of their apparel, mostly from Asia. Want to support ethical fashion, seek the Ethical Clothing Australia seal, an accreditation body working with Australian textile, clothing and footwear companies to ensure their local supply chains are transparent and legally compliant. You can see a list of accredited brands here.

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