North Korea’s False Eyelashes Flood the Market Disguised as ‘Made in China’
North Korea has been exporting products like false eyelashes and wigs, disguised as “Made in China,” to earn foreign currency, according to a report by Reuters on the 3rd (local time).
Reuters interviewed 15 industry workers, trade lawyers, and North Korean economic experts and reported that Chinese companies are importing, packaging, and selling products semi-manufactured in North Korea.
Through this method, North Korea has earned hundreds of billions of won in foreign currency, helping to revive its exports, Reuters said.
North Korea has earned foreign currency by exporting faux hair products like wigs and false eyelashes. However, with the borders closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and exports plummeting, it resumed this through China last year, according to Reuters.
According to Chinese customs data, North Korea’s exports to China in 2023 more than doubled from the previous year. About 60% of these were false eyelashes and wigs and exported about 1,680 tons worth $167 million.
In 2019, 1,829 tons, more than this, were exported, but with lower prices, it was reported to have earned $31.1 million in export revenues.
The U.S. State Department and international experts estimate that about 90% of the earned foreign currency flows into the North Korean regime. Despite high export revenues, many North Korean people continue to live in poverty. However, how much of the proceeds from selling false eyelashes go to Kim Jong Un’s family is not confirmed.
The UN Security Council has been imposing sanctions on North Korea since 2006 about nuclear tests and missile launches, limiting trade in coal, oil, and textiles, and employment of overseas workers. However, there was no direct ban on hair-related products, so this false eyelash trade cannot be considered a violation of international law, according to sanctions experts.
Most false eyelashes from North Korea are gathered in Pingdu, China, the “capital of false eyelashes in the world.” Many companies in Pingdu receive North Korean eyelashes, package them, and export them to various parts of the world, including the United States, Brazil, and Russia.
Chinese factory officials said they started trading false eyelashes with North Korea in the early 2000s, citing their good quality despite the low price.
The low sales price reflects the poor working conditions of the workers. Reuters explained that the wages of North Korean workers are 10% of Chinese wages, which makes it possible to supply products at low prices.