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2014-06-23 16:54
Government-compelled forced labor is widespread during Uzbekistan’s annual cotton harvest. The Korean government operates a factory in the Central Asian country to produce cotton linter pulp to make Korean banknotes. / Cotton Campaign-Facebook


By Kim Young-jin



Last week, the United States government rolled out its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. Korea again ranked in the top tier of countries for its efforts to combat what is referred to as “modern-day slavery.”

Media coverage of the report is similar each year. North Korea ranks in Tier 3, the worst possible, while Seoul is again in Tier 1.

This is misleading.

Being a Tier 1 country does not mean human trafficking is not a problem. Rather, the nation simply passed the minimum requirements to show it is working to fight it.

The report should be occasion to reflect on what human trafficking actually is, and how the government and civil society can help alleviate the human rights abuses that come with it.

In Korea, there is still plenty of confusion over what constitutes human trafficking.

Activists work tirelessly to help trafficking victims. However, when asked about the prevalence of the crime, a high-ranking law enforcement official told The Korea Times there was “almost nothing.” He cited the country’s Tier 1 status to drive the point home.

According to the United Nations, human trafficking occurs when a person is acquired by improper means including force, fraud or deception, for the purposes of exploitation.

Here are some of the major findings in of the 2014 TIP report pertaining to Korea.

Child sex trafficking

This year’s report outlined in more detail the problem of Korean men engaging in child sex tourism in countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines, where the trafficking of children remains a problem. Travel is arranged by travel agencies under the guise of golf tours or business trips.

In waters off Kiribati, Korean crew on foreign-flagged fishing vessels exploited children. The report said locals bring girls to ships to prostitute the females.
The government has not prosecuted or convicted any Korean sex tourists during the past seven years, the report said.

Korean gov’t use of Uzbek cotton

This year’s report mentioned that the state-run Korean Minting and Security Printing Corporation (KOMSCO) “used Uzbekistan cotton yarn and pulp, products of forced child labor, in South Korean banknotes.”

Each year, Uzbek citizens are mobilized to the fields for the cotton harvests. People including doctors, nurses, teachers, university students and in some cases children must meet daily quotas, reportedly under threat of dismissal or expulsion.

KOMSCO and Daewoo International jointly operate a cotton factory outside Tashkent.
Documents obtained by The Korea Times in December showed the factory manufactured more than 4,500 tons of cotton linter pulp in 2013. The pulp is used to produce Korean banknotes and banknotes for other undisclosed countries.

Runaways turn to prostitution

Korean children are increasingly vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation through online recruitment, the report said.



Internet advertisements are a common tool for recruitment of sex workers. The right ad says, "Here's a way to make money for tuition without relying on your parents... Making money this way is much easier in America than Korea." / Korea Times file

The State Department estimated that 200,000 Korean girls run away from home each year and become vulnerable to prostitution. Some are lured into trafficking situations via online recruitment.

Teenagers, including runaways, are especially vulnerable to Internet predators looking to recruit, activists say. Sites such as Foxalba.com and Sunhijang.com are notorious for such recruitment.

Korean fishing vessels

There have been widespread allegations in recent years over mistreatment of Indonesian workers on Korean-flagged vessels operating in international waters.

Crew have many times walked off Korean ships, alleging non-payment of wages and in some cases, physical or sexual abuse. The workers report being forced to work for 20-hour stretches with frequent underpayment and little time for sleep.

Whether the government deals with the problem seriously remains to be seen.
Last month, Seobu District Court gave suspended sentences to two Sajo Group employees who forged documents related to payment of Indonesian crew. The two are not expected to see the inside of a jail.

Sex trafficking

Korean women are being forced into prostitution in Korea and elsewhere, including the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong and Dubai.

This often involves deception about working conditions, seizure of personal documents and intimidation. The women are lured into large debt, and then coerced into prostitution.

According to the report, more than 2,500 foreign women fall into debt while working at “juicy bars” near U.S. military bases in Korea. They entertain men in the bars and are said to be at risk of forced prostitution. Meanwhile, women from Mongolia, Laos and Nepal come to Korea as marriage migrants, but end up in trafficking situations.

Forced labor

This year’s report estimates that hundreds of Korean men, including some who are disabled, are forced to work on salt farms. The brutal working conditions include verbal and physical abuse, nonpayment of wages and poor living conditions.

Additionally, about 700,000 migrant workers in the fishing, agriculture livestock and manufacturing sectors face labor abuses such as the seizure of documents, debt bondage, dangerous living conditions and sexual abuse. Many of these people come to Korea on the government’s Employment Permit System.


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