Amnesty International said South Korea's farming industry is "rife with abuse," and called on the country to end its widespread use of forced labor migrant agricultural workers.
A published report by the human rights group called Bitter Harvest documents widespread exploitation of migrant agricultural workers in South Korea.
The report said the country's Employment Permit System, or EPS, is designed "to provide migrant labor to small- and medium-sized enterprises that struggle to hire a sufficient number of national workers."
Norma Kang Muico, an Amnesty International migrant rights researcher, said South Korean authorities have created "a shameful system that allows trafficking for exploitation and forced labor to flourish."
Muico said EPS is "a stain on the country."
Abusive working conditions
The report, based on interviews with migrant agricultural workers across South Korea, documents a range of exploitation, including intimidation and violence, squalid accommodations, excessive working hours, no weekly rest days and unpaid overtime.
Amnesty said while an EPS employer can terminate a migrant's contract without having to justify the decision, migrants who want to leave their jobs must obtain an employer-signed release form.
Without the release, migrants run the risk of being reported as "runaways" to the immigration authorities by their employers, subjecting the migrants to arrest and deportation.
Amnesty International found that employers responsible for exploiting migrant agricultural workers rarely face any sanctions.
Muico said, "If South Koreans were trapped in a similar cycle of abuse, there would rightly be outrage."