Photos that offer a glimpse of what life is like for workers in notoriously isolated North Korea

Photos that offer a glimpse of what life is like for workers in notoriously isolated North Korea
Song Un Pyol, manager at the upscale Potonggang department store in Pyongyang, North Korea, stands in the snacks aisle while being interviewed by The Associated Press on June 19, 2017. Three generations into the ruling dynasty begun by Kim Il Sung, markets have blossomed and a consumer culture is taking root.
Song Un Pyol, manager at the upscale Potonggang department store in Pyongyang, North Korea, stands in the snacks aisle while being interviewed by The Associated Press on June 19, 2017. Three generations into the ruling dynasty begun by Kim Il Sung, markets have blossomed and a consumer culture is taking root.AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File
  • North Korea is home to over 25 million people, who are taught to worship their leaders, like Kim Jong Un, as gods.

  • The country is culturally and economically isolated as many suffer from malnutrition and live in extreme poverty.

  • Many North Koreans go to work every day on farms, in factories, and in the capital of Pyongyang.

Little is known about the daily life of people living in North Korea, one of the world's most isolated nations.

The country is home to more than 25 million people, who from a young age are taught to worship their leaders, including the current Great Leader, Kim Jong Un, as powerful gods. Un has near-total control of the country and leads a repressive regime that is willing to do away with political dissidents, according to a 2022 Human Rights Watch report.

And while Kim boasts his great military and nuclear might to the rest of the world, many of his citizens quietly struggle, suffering from malnutrition and poor living conditions. Most citizens have little idea of what's going on in the outside world due to government restrictions on electricity, travel, and more, according to the Human Rights Watch report.

Still, North Korean citizens do participate in the workforce, though sometimes they do so against their will. Most North Koreans don't have a say in their professions and are assigned a job. Tens of thousands are being held in political prison camps where many are used for forced labor in mines, a United Nations expert told Reuters.

Below, take a look into the mostly hidden world of the work-life of North Korea.

Following a catastrophic famine in the 1990s, North Korea pushed to increase its agricultural production. Still, food insecurity in the region is alarmingly high, the UN recently said.

A farmer carries a fully grown cabbage after plucking it out from the main crop that will be harvested early next month and used to make Kimchi, at the Chilgol vegetable farm on the outskirts of Pyongyang, North Korea, on Oct. 24, 2014. After suffering a near cataclysmic famine in the 1990s, North Korea has since managed to increase its agricultural production to what international organizations believe is closer to the self-sufficiency level than the country has seen in years.
A farmer carries a fully grown cabbage after plucking it out from the main crop that will be harvested early next month and used to make Kimchi, at the Chilgol vegetable farm on the outskirts of Pyongyang, North Korea, on Oct. 24, 2014.AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File

The country was receiving food aid until 2009, and in recent years, corn and rice production has improved.

 

Source: Associated Press

Around 37 percent of all North Koreans work in agriculture and use primitive methods to cultivate the land.

Men plow fields along the Pyongyang-Wonsan highway in Sangwon, North Korea, near Pyongyang, on July 20, 2017.
Men plow fields along the Pyongyang-Wonsan highway in Sangwon, North Korea, near Pyongyang, on July 20, 2017.AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File

North Korea's disdain for modern technological intervention is in part a way to add more laborers to the workforce. More machines would mean fewer workers.

Source: Associated Press

Source: CIA World Factbook

Workers at Ongnyugwan, a popular noodle restaurant in Pyongyang, claim to serve 10,000 lunches a day. The restaurant was built in 1960 at the request of the late leader Kim Il Sung.

People dine at the Ongnyugwan, a popular noodle restaurant in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Sept. 1, 2014. The restaurant, built in 1960 at the instructions of the late leader Kim Il Sung, claims to serve 10,000 lunches a day.
People dine at the Ongnyugwan, a popular noodle restaurant in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Sept. 1, 2014.AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File

Source: Associated Press

Kim Jong Il opened the Pothonggang Department Store in December 2010 in what officials said was an attempt to improve living conditions in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital. The store sells electronics, cosmetics, food, housing goods, and more.

Song Un Pyol, manager at the upscale Potonggang department store in Pyongyang, North Korea, stands in the snacks aisle while being interviewed by The Associated Press on June 19, 2017. Three generations into the ruling dynasty begun by Kim Il Sung, markets have blossomed and a consumer culture is taking root.
Song Un Pyol, manager at the upscale Potonggang department store in Pyongyang, North Korea, stands in the snacks aisle while being interviewed by The Associated Press on June 19, 2017.AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File

While comparatively wealthy North Koreans line up to shop at the store, poorer city residents instead buy goods via an extensive black market — often trading American dollars for products.

Source: Reuters

Citizens are encouraged by the state to purchase domestically made cosmetics instead of foreign brands.

North Korean women package soap at a cosmetics factory in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013.
North Korean women package soap at a cosmetics factory in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013.David Guttenfelder/AP

Source: Reuters

The 326 Electric Wire Factory in Pyongyang says it has 1,000 workers on any given day. When the Los Angeles Times visited in 2016, only 100 were on duty.

A factory worker takes off his gloves at the Pyongyang 326 Electric Wire Factory in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Jan. 10, 2017.
A factory worker takes off his gloves at the Pyongyang 326 Electric Wire Factory in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Jan. 10, 2017.AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File

Source: Los Angeles Times

North Korea has one major trading partner — China — to whom they sell minerals, metals, guns, textiles, and agricultural and fishery products

A hotel staff member stands at a reception desk decorated with a map of the world on Oct. 23, 2014, in Pyongyang, North Korea.
A hotel staff member stands at a reception desk decorated with a map of the world on Oct. 23, 2014, in Pyongyang, North Korea.AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File

Source: CIA World Factbook

Images of the first Great Leader, Kim Il-Sung, and his son, Kim Jong Il, can be found throughout the country. This portrait adorns the wall of a hotel in Pyongyang.

A staff member sweeps the floor in a hotel lobby in front of a picture featuring portraits of the late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il on June 19, 2017, in Pyongyang, North Korea.
A staff member sweeps the floor in a hotel lobby in front of a portrait of the Great Leaders.AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File

Source: Associated Press

The Kim Jong Suk Pyongyang textile factory, named after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's grandmother, claims to employ 1,600 workers, primarily women.

A woman works at the Kim Jong Suk Pyongyang textile factory in Pyongyang, North Korea, on July 31, 2014.
A woman works at the Kim Jong Suk Pyongyang textile factory in Pyongyang, North Korea, on July 31, 2014.fsAP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File

Source: Associated Press

At the Ryuwon Shoe Factory, Kim Kyong Hui said "the respected leader Kim Jong Un has instructed us to closely study shoes from all over the world and learn from their example."

A North Korean woman works at Ryuwon Shoe Factory that specializes in sports footwear, in Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday, Feb. 1, 2019.
A North Korean woman works at Ryuwon Shoe Factory, which specializes in sports footwear, in Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday, Feb. 1, 2019.Dita Alangkara/AP

Source: CBS News

At the Suk Pyongyang textile factory, employees sort and process silkworms to produce silk threads.

A shaft of light from the morning sun illuminates a woman as she sorts out silkworm cocoons to be boiled at the Kim Jong Suk Silk Mill in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Jan. 6, 2017. The silk mill, named after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's grandmother, is where 1,600 workers _ mostly women _ sort and process silkworms to produce silk thread that officials at the factory say is made into roughly 200 tons of silk a year.
A shaft of light from the morning sun illuminates a woman as she sorts out silkworm cocoons to be boiled at the Kim Jong Suk Silk Mill in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Jan. 6, 2017.AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File

Source: Associated Press

The Suk Pyongyang textile factory in Pyongyang has said that it produces about 200 tons of silk every year.

A woman sorts silkworm cocoons to be boiled as part of the silk production process at the Kim Jong Suk Silk Mill in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Jan. 6, 2017.
A woman sorts silkworm cocoons to be boiled as part of the silk production process at the Kim Jong Suk Silk Mill in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Jan. 6, 2017.AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File

Source: Associated Press

North Korea has historically struggled to produce the amount of fertilizer it needs.

North Korean laborers work together at a fertilizer factory in Hamhung, North Korea's second largest city in South Hamgyong Province, Friday, Aug. 10, 2012.
North Korean laborers work together at a fertilizer factory in Hamhung, North Korea's second largest city in South Hamgyong Province, Friday, Aug. 10, 2012.David Guttenfelder/AP

Source: Business Insider

The Chollima Steel Complex in Nampo says it employs more than 8,000 workers. It's one of seven North Korean steel complexes.

A shaft of light from a furnace shines through the Chollima Steel Complex in Nampo, North Korea, on Jan. 7, 2017. One of seven North Korean steel works, Chollima has more than 8,000 workers and is among the North's showcase enterprises.
A shaft of light from a furnace shines through the Chollima Steel Complex in Nampo, North Korea, on Jan. 7, 2017.AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File

Source: Associated Press

The Chollima Steel Complex was built by Mitsubishi when Japan ruled over the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Production briefly stopped after World War II but resumed in 1953.

A worker with a shovel stands near a furnace at the Chollima Steel Complex in Nampo, North Korea, on Jan. 7, 2017. Built by the Mitsubishi company during Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, the steel plant was destroyed and then rebuilt. Production resumed soon after an armistice halted the Korean War in 1953.
A worker with a shovel stands near a furnace at the Chollima Steel Complex in Nampo, North Korea, on Jan. 7, 2017.AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File

Source: Associated Press

Men and women work together in rice fields in North Korea's Kangwon Province. The province's capital, Wonsan, is being developed into a summer vacation destination.

Men and women work in a rice field in Kangwon province, eastern North Korea, on June 23, 2016. The capital of Kangwon province is Wonsan, which is located along the eastern side of the Korean Peninsula and was one of the cities chosen to be developed into a summer destination for locals and tourists.
Men and women work in a rice field in Kangwon province, eastern North Korea, on June 23, 2016.AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File

Source: Associated Press

The state-owned Taedonggang Beer company has a shop in Pyongyang, where people can stop in for a drink.

Beer servers Kim Yon Hui, left, and Yang Pok Yong wait to serve customers at the Taedonggang Beer shop in Pyongyang, North Korea, on May 7, 2016.
Beer servers Kim Yon Hui, left, and Yang Pok Yong wait to serve customers at the Taedonggang Beer shop in Pyongyang, North Korea, on May 7, 2016.AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File

It's nearly impossible to buy beer outside of North Korea, but it can be found in some parts of China.

Source: Associated Press

The prices of corn and rice products increased amid the pandemic.

An employee of the Pyongyang Corn Processing Factory watches corn noodles being made Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, in Pyongyang, North Korea.
An employee of the Pyongyang Corn Processing Factory watches corn noodles being made Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, in Pyongyang, North Korea.Jon Chol Jin/AP

Source: The Los Angeles Times

Laborers in Rajin export seafood products to China at the Suchae Bong Corp seafood factory inside the Rason Special Economic Zone.

Workers carry boxes of seafood on Nov. 8, 2013, as they load a Chinese transport truck at the Suchae Bong Corp seafood factory in Rajin, North Korea, inside the Rason Special Economic Zone.
Workers carry boxes of seafood on Nov. 8, 2013, as they load a Chinese transport truck at the Suchae Bong Corp seafood factory in Rajin, North Korea, inside the Rason Special Economic Zone.AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, File

North Koreans are allowed to work in China, and some do work at Chinese companies within North Korea. But they do so at a price: Kim Jong Un's government takes a cut each worker's salary.

Source: Associated Press

The Kaesong Industrial Complex in Kaesong, North Korea, is the last inter-Korean rapprochement project. Though it is located in North Korea, just across the demilitarized zone from South Korea, the factory was first built as a place where South Korean companies could manufacture products using North Korean labor.

Workers check finished products at the factory of a South Korean-owned company at the jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex in Kaesong, North Korea, on Dec. 19, 2013. The Kaesong complex just north of the border is the last remaining inter-Korean rapprochement project.
Workers check finished products at the factory of a South Korean-owned company at the jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex in Kaesong, North Korea, on Dec. 19, 2013. The Kaesong complex just north of the border is the last remaining inter-Korean rapprochement project.Kim Hong-Ji/Pool Photo via AP, File

Source: Associated Press, BBC

Officers in the Ministry of Public Security — North Korea’s daily law-enforcement agency — functions as a national constabulary who enforce laws.

A traffic policeman directs pedestrians leaving an anti-U.S. rally that marked the 66th anniversary of the start of the Korean War at Kim Il Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on June 25, 2016.
A traffic policeman directs pedestrians leaving an anti-U.S. rally that marked the 66th anniversary of the start of the Korean War at Kim Il Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on June 25, 2016.AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File

Source: Britannica

In May 2022, Kim Jong Un blamed his own officials and their "irresponsible work attitude" for a surge in COVID-19 infections.

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, a doctor checks a resident's temperature to curb the spread of coronavirus infection, in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 17, 2022.
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, a doctor checks a resident's temperature to curb the spread of coronavirus infection, in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 17, 2022.Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File

Source: CBS News

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