Modern Slavery in our backyard: Dutch shipbuilders, Polish shipyards and North Korean Slaves - Asser Institute - 6 February

Slavery has long been banished by law in Europe (since 1863 in The Netherlands), but it has not disappeared from the face of this earth, nor apparently from the territory of the European Union. Thus, a recent report by the Leiden Asia Centre (under the coordination of Prof. Remco Breuker and Imke van Gardingen) showed how workers from North Korea were brought to Poland in order to work in slavery-like conditions for the shipbuilding industry there. In coordination with the researchers, a team of journalists shot the documentary Dollar Heroes on North Korean workers around the globe which will be shown at the end of the event. It will be preceded by a panel discussion on the legal accountability of a Dutch shipbuilding firm which ordered and controlled the construction of ships in the polish shipyards where North-Korean workers were active. Indeed, in November 2018, a North-Korean worker lodged a criminal complaint with the Dutch prosecutor’s office against the Dutch firm. This case raises important questions on the potential criminal liability of corporations for instances of slavery inside their transnational supply chains.

15:00 - 16:30 – Panel discussion on the criminal liability of Dutch shipbuilders for the exploitation of North Korean workers in Polish Shipyards:

  •        Imke van Gardingen (FNV)
  •        Barbara van Straaten (Prakken d’Oliveira)
  •        Prof. Cedric Ryngaert (Utrecht University)
  •        Prof. Remco Breuker (Leiden University)
  •        Antoine Duval (Asser Institute) - Moderator

16:30 – 18:00 – Showing of Dollar Heroes followed by a Q&A with Sebastian Weis (Vice) and Prof. Remco Breuker (Leiden University)

Please register HERE!

Accountability for the exploitation of North Korean workers in the Shipbuilding Industry through Dutch Criminal Law – By Imke B.L.H. van Gardingen

Editor’s note: Imke B.L.H. van Gardingen (LLM Int. and EU labour law, MA Korean Studies) is a policy advisor on labour migration at the Dutch Federation of Trade Unions (FNV) and a researcher on DPRK overseas labour.


On November 8, 2018 a North Korean overseas worker who had worked in slave like conditions for a Polish shipyard, a supplier of a Dutch shipbuilding company, has filed a criminal complaint against the Dutch firm. The Dutch Penal Code, article 273f(6), includes a provision criminalizing the act of ‘profiting’ from labour exploitation, targeting not the direct perpetrators in the labour exploitation, but the ones profiting from this exploitation. This is a unique case that aims to hold the company at the top of the chain accountable for modern slavery in its supply chain. A chain that in the case of shipbuilding is rather short; the buyer subcontracts the core business of building the complete hull under detailed instructions cheaply abroad. More...