North Korea is saddled with sanctions for its nuclear testing, but Pyongyang has found at least one way to buck the system, the UN now acknowledges: bring in foreign currency via forced labor outside the country, reports CNN. And it's no small chunk of change the nation is said to reap, with estimates from a 2012 human rights report putting the number between $1.2 billion and $2.3 billion a year—much of which is believed to be funneled to the North's head honchos, as well as to its military and nuclear program. A new report from UN human-rights investigator Marzuki Darusman outlines what he calls a "dire" situation whose "numbers have grown," with more than 50,000 laborers (South Korean estimates put the number closer to 100,000) toiling for as long as 20 hours a day while barely getting fed and hardly getting paid.
Workers who do pull a paycheck take home between $120 and $150 a month, while their bosses "pay significantly higher amounts" to Pyongyang, per Darusman's report. Most of the workers are sent to mining, construction, logging, and textile jobs in China and Russia, with others scattered throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, the AP notes. The forced-labor issue is part of North Korea's overall strategy for keeping its people in check, Darusman says, adding he'd like the UN Security Council to seek justice in the International Criminal Court. Companies that make use of these workers are also "complicit in an unacceptable system of forced labor," says Darusman. (Read more North Korea stories.)