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The Geopolitics of Beauty: North Korea’s Silent Revenue Stream

by Violet Dawson
0 comment

The rise in human hair trade has aided the sustainability of North Korea’s isolated economy

The western owners of shiny new wigs and false eyelashes possibly owe their new look to the slave labor in North Korea and they are unaware of it. The trade of human hair wigs and false eyelashes is booming in Pyongyang (Capital of North Korea). The sale of wigs and false lashes offers a vital revenue to the country to act as a catalyst for their nuclear ambitions. 

This news raised eyebrows in the West and therefore harsh sanctions were imposed against North Korea because of their plan on the nuclear program. Bans were imposed on trading coal, textiles, oil and many other items. 

It is estimated by the US State Department that the dictatorial government of North Korea seize up to 90% income of their citizens collected from the foreign exports. This has led many of their citizens to live in poverty. The rise in human hair trade has aided the sustainability of North Korea’s isolated economy. This has further smoothened the impact of the international sanctions and has helped Pyongyang with the required revenue to carry forward the nuclear plans. 

False eyelashes which are also known as “falsies” and hair wigs took over 60% of North Korea’s exports to China until last year making them the biggest trading partners. The millions of dollars acquired from the sale of human hair has helped the recovery of the secretive state’s exports in 2023.

The exports included 1680 tons which make up to 135 double decker buses filled with false eyelashes, wigs and beards. To a total value of $167 million in the Hermit Kingdom as per the Chinese custom data. 

The trade of eyelashes is not sanctioned which means that North Korea can easily trade products with China without breaking any international laws. China imports the semi-finished eyelashes from North Korea and labels them as “made in China” after full assembly and packages the products. The Chinese businesses export them all over the world.

The main reason for China’s import from the early 2000s is North Korea’s low labor cost and high quality of lashes. The country pays its laborers ten times less than what the Chinese counterparts are paid for the same service.

Industries that manufacture beauty products are lighter and are not subjected to UN sanctions against Pyongyang. It is one of the ways by which the regime is able to legally soften the international punitive measures and earn vital foreign currency. 

North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon almost two decades ago and made an announcement of an upcoming potential threat to global security. They are known to be the world’s most unpredictable and brutal dictatorships.

The years of sanctions made by the US government has not impacted North Korea but has only dented their pursuit of a working nuclear obstacle. The North Korea leader, Kim Jong-un has not just followed his father’s footsteps but has accelerated the plans. His father’s regime of ballistic technology through a stream of tests has given North Korea the ability to conduct a nuclear strike on the US. 

North Korea threatened the US Pacific territory of Guam to launch a long range missile in 2017.  In the same year it launched two of such missiles over Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkido. Later in 2023 after the COVID-19 pandemic, 30 ballistic missiles were launched by North Korea which also included five ICBMs. 

In it an obvious situation that all the weapon program are not entirely funded by the sale of beauty products that are labelled “made in China”. The regime continued to expand and improve its arsenal of mass destruction despite the bans imposed on weapons transfers and export of coal, iron, seafood and textiles by the UN security council. 

Another successive factor is its impeccable cyberwarfare capabilities. It is suspected that between 2017 and 2023 the country’s hackers have made over a dozen cyber attacks. It brought in $3 billion which in turn helped the nuclear weapons program according to a leaked UN report.

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