North Korea has asked South Korean employers at the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Park to omit two popular snacks from its employee menu, namely Choco Pie and instant noodle.
South Korean staff at the industrial park have told VOA the Stalinist country has also ordered the North Korean employees not take the foodstuff outside the complex.
In an interview with the VOA Korean Service Wednesday, Oak Seong-sok, Vice President of the South’s Kaesong Industrial Complex Business Association, said “Pyongyang basically ordered an economic blockade [of the complex].”
South Korean companies at the complex have been distributing up to 10 Choco Pies per person to its North Korean employees, for various reasons such as working the overnight shift. That means about 400,000 snack cakes have been given to the workers on a daily basis.
The cake, with marshmallow filling and chocolate covering, has become one of the most popular items in the North’s black markets.
According to a North Korean defector who settled in the South last year, there are not enough of the circular treats to go around in illegal outdoor markets.
“Only the affluent families can afford Choco Pies because there aren’t enough of them,” said the defector who chose to be anonymous.
Employers at the complex say the public trading and popularity of the snack cake has made it a threat to the regime’s stability in the eyes of Pyongyang.
Following Pyongyang’s orders, South Korean employers are looking into snacks they can substitute for Choco Pies and various brands of instant noodles, known as "ramyun" in Korean. Possible options are powdered juice, chocolate, and instant coffee packets, according to Oak.
Some North Korean employees view the wording on the packaging that states Choco Pie as a product of South Korea as problematic and take off the packaging before taking it outside the complex.
The Kaesong Industrial Complex is located just north of the demilitarized zone that divides the peninsula. The joint project between the two countries allows the South Korean companies to employ cheap labor that can speak Korean, albeit in slightly different dialect, and North Korea to gain the much needed foreign currency.
There are approximately 52,000 North Korean workers and 800 South Korean managers and staff. The North Korean employees’ wages are paid directly to the North Korean government.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.