Dollar Heroes: How the World Funds North Korea’s Nuclear Ambitions

February 10, 2022

Still from
North Korea's Secret Slaves: Dollar Heroes
Ella Hardy

As of January 2022, North Korea has embarked on a testing rampage, firing 7 missiles in just four weeks. While the average North Korean makes just under a dollar per month, the regime rakes in enough foreign currency to support its nuclear weapons program. North Korea is forced to import some of the parts for their nuclear missiles which makes foreign currency the backbone of its nuclear ambitions. ‘North Korea’s Secret Slaves: Dollar Heroes’, an investigative documentary by Carl Gierstorfer and Sebastian Weis, asks the critical question: where is this money coming from?

The answer? Modern slavery on a global scale. ‘Dollar Heroes’ refers to North Korean forced labor brigades. As the film describes, North Korean men and women are lured into working overseas with false promises of supporting their families. Laborers are stripped of their wages by North Korean work captains and must pay fees to the government, forcing them to work day and night. As escaped Dollar Hero ‘Park’ tells the filmmakers "People were not treated as humans there...They made us work 24 hours in two shifts.”

Workers are under constant surveillance by the North Korean regime. Experts believe that ‘Dollar Heroes’ can be found in Russia, China, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and even Poland. They estimate that Dollar Heroes number in the hundreds of thousands, sending more than one billion US Dollars back to the ‘hermit kingdom’ annually.

The film uncovers shocking information about this international forced labor system, featuring interviews with North Korean laborers, experts on North Korea’s regime, and North Koreans in exile. Thae Yong Ho, former North Korean ambassador to the UK, is critical of the international community’s failure to place a ban on North Korean work brigades. “How else are we going to stop North Korea's steady progress in the field of nuclear technology and intercontinental missiles.” says Ho.

Given the recent nuclear tests, North Korea’s nuclear program shows no signs of stopping. ‘North Korea’s Secret Slaves: Dollar Heroes’ examines how forced labor supports North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal and suggests how, through patterns of global consumerism, we may be complicit.

‘North Korea’s Secret Slaves: Dollar Heroes’ is part of THE WHY Foundation’s ‘Film of the Month’, available for free on YouTube for the month of February. Click here to check out the film.

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