5 Products Made in North Korea…

Apr 10, 2013 at 4:02 PM ET

Things are only getting scarier on the Korean peninsula in the wake of a decision by Kim Jong-un and his brain trust to shut off access to an industrial park the Hermit Kingdom runs jointly with its archenemy to the south.

The Kaesong Industrial Complex, located on the North Korean side of the border, is home to the factories of 123 South Korean companies. More than 50,000 North Koreans worked there until last week. While they are paid very little — one former U.S. official described the arrangement as a form of slave labor — the pay they earn has been a vital source of hard currency for the isolated nation.

For Americans, this particular aspect of the geopolitical showdown may feel far away. We never see “Made in North Korea” on anything we buy — largely because the U.S. has a strict trade embargo against North Korea. Under almost all circumstances, it’s illegal to import products made inside the dictatorship.

But the fruits of North Korea’s exploited and abused labor force may be closer at hand than you think.

Kaesong factories churn out components and parts that are used in South Korean-made products — which, in turn, may be exported to the U.S..

Two years ago, in a little-noticed Congressional factsheet, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) noted this potential weakness in the trade embargo, warning that expanded trade between the U.S. and South Korea could unintentionally “pave the way for the export of products built in Kaesong to the U.S. market.”

So are Americans buying North Korean-made goods without knowing it?

There are a couple of reasons to think that we might be.

The first is that South Korea could be using Kaesong components in finished products it exports to the U.S. under the Korean-American Free Trade Agreement.

For instance, the Korean car-makers Kia and Hyundai use parts made in the North Korean industrial park.

“Is someone really going to ask whether the Kia fuel pump is made in North Korea? This could actually be a newsworthy find if it was revealed that they were,” Stephan Haggard, a professor of Korea-Pacific Studies at the University of California-San Diego, told Vocativ.

Secondly, products made in Kaesong might be shipped to the U.S. through a third country like China or Singapore — nations that don’t have a trade embargo.

“It’s not impossible some of the exports from Kaesong are going to China. It’s not impossible that there could be leakage [of exports from North Korea] beyond China,” said Haggard, while also stressing that South Korea’s measures against direct importation of Kaesong goods to the U.S. were strong.

Here are a few everyday products found in the United States that might be made in Kaesong — or contain parts that were:

Hyundai and Kia cars
There a number of auto parts factories in Kaesong, and many of the parts that are made there go into Kia and Hyundai automobiles — that is, the two major export brands to the U.S. For example, the fuel pumps in South Korean-made cars might come from Daewha Fuel Pump IND Ltd., which makes them in the North Korean complex. According to the company’s website, they also export directly to the US.

Cheap printer cartridges
With a factory in Kaesong, the Korean company Combase Inc. is a leading maker of recycled toner cartridges for use in printers made by Hewlett Packard, Xerox and other industry giants. Combase cartridges are available for wholesale purchase by U.S. businesses on Alibaba.com, among other sites. According to the company’s profile on business-to-business site GoBizKorea, Combase exports to the USA through a Hong Kong reseller.

Rice cookers
Among the top-selling rice cookers in America is a South Korean brand called Cuckoo, which has a factory in the Kaesong park. Interested browsers can find dozens of models available for sale on Amazon.com.

Fancy paragliders
This one is for the daredevils: Gin Gliders, a global leader in paragliding equipment and accessories and has a factory in Kaesong. Headquartered in South Korea with a U.S. distributor in Salt Lake City, Utah, the company has some production activity based in KIC, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service. Attempts to contact the Salt Lake City distributor and Gin Gliders Korea were unsuccessful.

Voctiv reached out to all the companies mentioned in the story, but none provided a comment.