The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

April 6, 2013

Made in Korea: Rare look at jointly run factories

(Continued)

Pak, who is North Korean, noted that a June 2000 agreement signed by both Korean governments calls for improving North Korea’s economy “equally, on the principle of mutual assistance.”

Today, some 120 South Korean businesses have factories in Kaesong. He said they employ about 51,000 North Koreans, mostly women, making the complex the biggest provider of jobs in Kaesong, the country’s third-largest city. Shoes and clothing make up 70 percent of the goods produced; the rest are largely chemical and electrical products, he said.

Hundreds of South Koreans run the factories, some living during the week in Kaesong and others commuting every day across the border. Goods, supplies and food are brought in by truck every morning, and leave in the late afternoon with finished products.

———

South Korean manager Chun Eun-suk took AP on a tour of GS Bucheon, which produces cables and wires that will make their way into Samsung and LG refrigerators and washing machines assembled in factories in China and Southeast Asia. A North Korean official accompanied the AP, which was denied permission to speak with North Korean workers.

Workers in light blue jackets with the company name stitched on the pocket deftly handled multicolored wires.

“It’s very simple work. They can learn this in a day,” said manager Hong Ha-sung.

The propaganda on the walls here is about health and safety: “Beware of fires!” “Wash your hands carefully!” There’s a pingpong table with balls emblazoned with the word “peace” — sometimes the competition is fierce.

The interaction between the North and South Koreans is collegial and cordial, but Chun and Hong say socializing is kept to a minimum. The South Koreans dine separately from the North Koreans, eating food brought from the South and stored in their own refrigerator.

The question of how North Korean workers are paid is a thorny one, with many believing that the government takes a large cut of the salaries. Hong said he pays the employees directly.

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