North Korea, Apparel Production Networks and UN Sanctions: Resilience through Informality

북한 의류 생산네트워크와 UN 제재

  • Lee, Jong-Woon (Peace Education Center at Hanshin University) ;
  • Gray, Kevin (International Relations at the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex)
  • Received : 2020.11.27
  • Accepted : 2020.12.22
  • Published : 2020.12.31


The strengthening of multilateral international sanctions against North Korea has raised questions as to how effective they are in exerting pressure on the country's economy. In this paper, we address this question by examining their impact on the country's integration into regional and global apparel production networks. North Korea has in the past decade become an increasingly competitive exporter of apparel on the basis of consignment-based processing arrangements. Official trade data shows a sharp drop in North Korean exports of clothing since the sectoral ban in 2017. There is evidence to suggest, however, that exports have continued on a more informal and clandestine basis. North Korea's integration into apparel production networks has also taken the form of the dispatch of workers to factories in China's northeastern border regions. Yet there is evidence that the recent sanctions imposed on such practices has similarly led to illicit practices such as working on visitors' visas, often with the help of Chinese enterprises and local government. The resilience of North Korea's integration into apparel production networks follows a capitalist logic and is result of the highly profitable nature of apparel production for all actors concerned and a correspondingly strong desire to evade sanctions. As such, the analysis contributes to the literature on sanctions that suggests that the measures may contribute to emergence of growing informal and illicit practices and to the role of the clandestine economy.

본고는 북한이 임가공사업과 인력송출을 통해 중국 주도의 지역·글로벌 의류 생산네트워크에 편입되는 과정과 구조적 특성을 밝히면서, 강화된 국제사회의 대북 제재조치가 미친 영향을 파악하고자 한다. 2017년 하반기 채택된 UN안보리 결의안에 북한산 섬유제품의 수입금지와 해외 파견 북한 노동자의 송환이 포함되면서 2010년대 들어 급증했던 중국기업의 대북 위탁가공거래와 노동력 활용은 크게 위축되었다. 그러나 북·중 접경지역 경제교류에는 오랜 기간 불법적인 요소들을 포함한 다양한 비공식적 거래방식이 공존하고 있다. 대북 경제제재 강화에 따라 합법적 교류창구가 닫히게 되면서, 규모는 감소하였지만 북한의 의류 위탁가공생산과 노동부문의 북·중 협력은 음성적 영역으로 전환·진행되고 있다. 북한의 지역 및 글로벌 생산네트워크 편입의 실태를 분석한 본 연구는 대북 경제제재의 실효성과 북한경제 변화에 대한 시사점을 제시할 것이다.


  1. Andreas, P., 2005, "Criminalizing Consequences of Sanctions: Embargo Busting and Its Legacy," International Studies Quarterly 49(2), pp.335-360.
  2. Bae, J.-R. and Yoon, S.-H., 2015, An Analysis of Jilin Province's Economic Cooperation with North Korea: Focus on Investment [Kilimsongui Taebuggyongjehyomnyok Shilt'ae Punsok: Taebukt'ujarul Chungshimuro], Seoul: Korea Institute for National Unification.
  3. Biao, X., 2007, "The Making of Mobile Subjects: How Migration and Institutional Reform Intersect in Northeast China," Development 50(4), pp.69-74.
  4. Chen, J., 2017, "Why Economic Sanctions on North Korea Fail to Work?," China Quarterly of International Strategic Studies 3(4), pp.513-534.
  5. Chi, S.-H., Chung, S.-Y., Kim, M. and Lee, S.-C., 2017, "A Relational Approach to Political Geography of Border Dynamics: Case Study of North Korea-China Border Region Dandong, China [Chopkyongjiyok Pyonhwaui Kwan'gyeronjok Chongch'ijirihak: Pukhan-Chungguk Chopkyongjiyok Tandungul Chungshimuro]," Journal of the Economic Geographical Society of Korea 20(3), pp.287-306.
  6. Choi, J., Kim, J., Im, S. J. and Choi, Y., 2015, Economic Cooperation between North Korea and China, and Implications for Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation [Pukjung Punopch'egye Punsoggwa Taebuk Kyongjehyomnyoge Taehan Shisajom], Sejong: Korea Institute for Internatioanl Economic Policy.
  7. Choi, Y.-J., 2016, "Economic Technology Development Zone, Micro-Regional Cooperation, and One Belt-One Road in the Northeast Asian Borderlands [Dongbuga Chopgyongjiyogui Kyongjegisulgaebalgu, Sojiyonghyomnyok Kurigo Ildaeillo]," The Korean Journal of Area Studies 34(3), pp.97-124.
  8. Cortright, D. and Lopez, G. A., 2002, Smart Sanctions: Targeting Economic Statecraft, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
  9. Drezner, D. W., 2000, "Bargaining, Enforcement, and Multilateral Sanctions: When Is Cooperation Counterproductive?," International Organization 54 (1), pp.73-102.
  10. Early, B. R., 2011, "Unmasking the Black Knights: Sanctions Busters and Their Effects on the Success of Economic Sanctions," Foreign Policy Analysis 7(4), pp.381-402.
  11. GPI Consulting, 2017, "Garment Production in North Korea,"
  12. Gray, K. and Lee, J.-W., 2018, "The Rescaling of the Chinese State and Sino-North Korean Relations: Beyond State-Centrism," Journal of Contemporary Asia 48(1), pp.113-132.
  13. Haggard, S. and Noland, M., 2017, Hard Target: Sanctions, Inducements, and the Case of North Korea, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  14. Harvey, D., 2001, "Globalization and the 'Spatial Fix,'" Geographische Revue 2, pp.23-30.
  15. Hastings, J. V., 2016, A Most Enterprising Country: North Korea in the Global Economy, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  16. Hufbauer, G. C., Schott, J. J. and Elliott, K. A., 1990, Economic Sanctions Reconsidered: History and Current Policy, Washington DC: Institute for International Economics.
  17. Jin, F., Lee, S. and Lim, M., 2012, Changing Labor Environment in China and Countermeasures of South Korean Companies: Focused on the Bohai Economic Rim [Chunggugui Nomuhwan'gyong Pyonhwawa Urigiyobui Taeungbangan: Hwanbalhaejiyogul Chungshimuro], Seoul: Korea Institute for International Economic Policy.
  18. Jones, L., 2015, Societies Under Siege: Exploring How International Sanctions (Do Not) Work, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  19. Kang, C. S., 2018, "Financial Strategy for Obtaining Actual Results in the Contemporary Socialist Enterprise Responsibility Management System [Hyonshigi Sahoejuuigiopch'aegimgwallijega Shilchi Unul Naedorok Hagi Wihan Chaejongjok Pangdo]," Economic Research [Kyongje Yon'gu] 4, pp.56-57.
  20. KDB, 2015, North Korean Industry 2015 [Pukhanui Sanop 2015], Seoul: Korean Development Bank.
  21. Kim, H. I., 2015, "Important Issues Arising from the Multidimensional Development of Foreign Economic Relations [Taeoegyongjegwan'gyerul Tagakchokuro Palchonshik'inundeso Nasonun Chungyo Munje]," Journal of Kim Il Sung University: Philosophy, Economics 61 (4), pp.71-77.
  22. Kim, S.-J., 2020, North Korea, the World's Clothing Factory [Segyeui Otkongjang, Pukhan], Seoul: Nulpum Plus.
  23. KITA, 2020, "The Status and Implications of China-North Korea Trade, 2019 [2019 Nyon Pukhan-Chungguk Muyok Tonghyanggwa Shisajom]."
  24. Lee, J.-S., 2016, "North Korea-China Economic Exchanges and the Reality of North Korean Economy from the Border [Kuggyongeso Pon Pukjung Kyongjekyoryuwa Pukhan'gyongje Shilsan]," Sejong Briefing, 2016.
  25. Lee, J.-W. and Gray, K., 2017, "Cause for Optimism? Financial Sanctions and the Rise of the Sino-North Korean Border Economy," Review of International Political Economy 24 (3), pp.424-453.
  26. Lee, S. and Ouellette, D. J., 2018, "North Korean Migrant Workers and China's Employment Permit System and Labor Law [Chunggugui Ch'wiop'ogajedowa Nodongbop Sangui Pukhanijunodongja]," Journal of Social Security Law 35, pp.125-160.
  27. Lee, S.-C., Kim, B.-H., Chung, S.-Y., Kim, M. and Chi, S.-H., 2017, "Exceptional Characteristics of Cross-Border Production Networks in Dandong, North Korea-China Border Region [Chopkyongjiyok Tandungui Taebuk Saengsan Net'uwok'uui Yeoejok Songgyok]," Journal of the Economic Geographical Society of Korea 20(3), pp.331-354.
  28. Lee, S.-C., Lee, Y.-H. and Kim, B.-H., 2019, "Entry Types and Locational Determinants of North Korean Workers in Cross-Border Regions between North Korea and China [Chungguk Taebuk Chopkyongjiyogui Pukhan Nodongnyok Chinip Yuhyonggwa Yoin]," Journal of the Economic Geographical Society of Korea 22(4), pp.438-457.
  29. Lim, E.-C., 2016, North Korea's Economy in the Kim Jong Un Era: Private Financing and Masters of Money [Kim Chongun Sidaeui Pukhan'gyongje: Sagumyunggwa Tongju], Seoul: Hanul.
  30. Lim, G.-S., 2012, "The Situation and Tasks of Jilin Province's Trade and Investment with North Korea [Kirimsongui Taebuk Muyoggwa t'uja Hyonhwang Mit Kwaje]." KDI Review of the North Korean Economy January, pp.63-82.
  31. Mayall, J., 1984, "The Sanctions Problem in International Economic Relations: Reflections in the Light of Recent Experience," International Affairs 60(4), pp.631-642.
  32. Min, W. J. and Han, S., 2020, "Economic Sanctions against North Korea: The Pivotal Role of US-China Cooperation," International Area Studies Review 23(2), pp.177-193.
  33. Oh, S.-D., 2019, "A Study on the Situation of Border Management between North Korea and China and Its Applicability to North-South Border Management: Traffic, Safety, and River Management [Puk - Chung Kukkyong Kwallishilt'aewa Nambuk Chopkyong Kwallieui Chokyong Kanungsong," Seoul.북.중+국경+관리실태.
  34. Pape, R. A., 1997, "Why Economic Sanctions Do Not Work," International Security 22(2), pp.90-136.
  35. Ri, O. S., 2013, "The Meaning of Building Processing Capacity in the Practice of Clothing Processing Trade [P'ibokkagongmuyok Shilch'oneso Kagongnungnyok Chosongi Kajinun Uiui]," Economic Research [Kyongje Yon'gu] 1, pp.49-50.