Asia-Pacific

Thursday 31 July 2014

North Korea reportedly bans factory workers from receiving 'Choco Pies' as black market flourishes

Published 02/07/2014|13:38

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The biscuits, which resemble Wagon Wheels, have been at the heart of a surprising smuggling industry at the border of North and South Korea.

North Korea has reportedly banned factory workers from receiving “Choco Pies” as payment as a black market in the beloved snacks flourishes.

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The biscuits, which resemble Wagon Wheels, may seem unremarkable but for years, they have been at the heart of a surprising smuggling industry at the border of North and South Korea.

North Koreans have been allowed to work in the Kaesong industrial park across the demilitarized zone in South Korea since 2004.

But restrictions meant that employees from the authoritarian state could not be paid cash bonuses for overtime, so payment switched to food products, namely Choco Pies.

The snacks became a sensation among workers and realising they were too valuable to eat, employees took them back to Pyongyang to sell on the black market for several times their original price.

It may seem like another hoax story from South Korea but the phenomenon has been documented widely by the BBC, Washington Post and London Review of Books, among others.

When the Kaesong Industrial Complex was closed for several months last year amid heightened tensions between the North and South, prices for a single Choco Pie reportedly rocketed to between £6 and £14 – more than a day’s pay.

The cost could now go through the roof if reports from the South Korean Chosun Ilbo newspaper are true.

Factory staff told the paper that North Korea ordered a halt to the supply of Choco Pies, telling businesses to give workers sausages, noodles, coffee and chocolate instead.

A famine in the 1990s killed up to one million North Koreans and the country still has problems with food shortages and receives aid.

Pyongyang could be concerned about the friendliness between its workers and South Korea, or believe the snacks are undermining its nationalist ideology.

Or maybe the Government is trying to drive hungry consumers to its own Choco Pie imitation, although they reportedly pale in comparison to their southern cousins.

Either way, the battle of the biscuits looks set to continue.

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