Will North Korea Become the New China?

As the world collectively holds its breath in anticipation of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un’s Tuesday summit — maybe eat your favorite thing tonight, you never know — Business of Fashion is reporting that, were present sanctions to be lifted, North Korea would become a premier destination for cheap garment production almost overnight.

“[Manufacturers] in Asia have been quietly eyeing up North Korea as the region’s next low-cost sourcing destination,” the story says, noting that the embattled rogue nation is known for its “low wages and quick-learning workforce,” both key factors for establishing a low-cost manufacturing hub.

“Ending trade embargoes would have an immediate impact on North Korea, opening it up to business and industry — and fashion would be at the heart of this,” the story found, reporting that clothing and textiles are already one of the country’s “biggest export categories,” and were worth about $725 million in 2016, before the UN instituted new sanctions targeting the sector. One industry member even called it (without irony) “the East Africa of the future, but better placed.”

As for those concerned with workers’ rights, which should be all of us, a ramped up North Korean manufacturing force presents serious issues. “[A Human Rights Watch] report claims that the government systematically uses forced [labor] from ordinary citizens to sustain its economy and that while those required to work at government-assigned enterprises are theoretically entitled to a salary, they usually are not compensated.”

“The only potential positive to this bleak reality of worker’s lives is the hope that potential income from international manufacturing deals could give the government the impetus needed to improve factory working conditions.” A totally reasonable thing to expect from a totalitarian dictatorship.

You can read more about it at Business of Fashion.

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