In 2014, at a colossal shipyard in Gdynia, Poland, a welder suffered an on-the-job accident which cost him his life. Upon investigation, it was discovered that the victim was an immigrant from North Korea who was sent to work at the shipyard under the insidious cloak of forced labor. His death serves as the catalyst for the VICE News production titled Cash for Kim, a searing look inside what one interview subject describes as the "world's largest illegal job agency".
During the course of their investigation, the filmmakers determine that North Korean laborers are routinely sent to various regions across Europe to work on large-scale industrial projects. They work under abhorrent conditions with few safety measures and for little pay. The welder's death, for instance, resulted from a long list of violations including the durability of his clothing and a complete lack of supervision.
There are an estimated 50,000 forced laborers from North Korea who are much like him. They work in industries that range from agriculture to construction, and their exploitation is driven by purely economic reasons. North Korea's ability to profit off international trade is limited; therefore, they've sought out alternative means of generating income. Collectively, the blood and sweat of forced laborers garners over two billion dollars a year for the power elite of their home country.
The filmmakers pursue a dialogue with the workers and the agency that deploys them throughout Europe, but they are met with fearful evasion on both fronts. Labor inspectors and activists are more forthcoming as they attest that a significant portion of the immigrant labor force in Poland are illegally attained from North Korea.
The employment agencies and Polish power structures fail to recognize any wrongdoing on their part, and they seem to have little regard for the morality of engaging in such shady dealings with a brutal dictatorship. Meanwhile, the workers continue to toil in dangerous conditions, and another fatal incident like the one that occurred in 2014 appears to be an inevitability.
Cash for Kim shines a harsh spotlight on their practices, and exposes an underground operation that resembles a form of modern slavery.