Animation work outsourced to North Korea

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North Korean animation
North Korean animation
Animation industry and propaganda tool
Origins
Began in 1948 with the opening of the Pyongyang animation studio.
Production
Produced over 200 films from 1948 until the 1980s.
Foreign Collaboration
SEK Studio, North Korea's primary animation producer, has provided services for clients in Italy, Spain, France, China, Russia, Japan, and indirectly for the United States.
Recent investigations have revealed that North Korean animators may have been involved in the production of animation for Western media companies, particularly for shows on Amazon Prime Video and Max streaming services, without the knowledge of these companies. This situation highlights the complexities and challenges of global outsourcing in the animation industry, especially concerning compliance with international sanctions.

Overview of North Korean Animation Outsourcing

North Korean animation studios, notably SEK Studio, have a history of providing animation services to foreign clients. This includes work on major projects like Disney's "Lion King" and "Pocahontas," as well as other international productions. SEK Studio, established in the 1950s, has been a significant player in the global animation outsourcing market, leveraging the relatively low cost of labor in North Korea.

Recent Discoveries on Outsourcing Practices

A misconfigured North Korean Internet cloud server recently provided insights into the ongoing outsourcing practices involving North Korean animation studios. Documents found on this server included animation files and editing instructions for Western animation projects, such as "Invincible" on Amazon Prime Video and "Iyanu: Child of Wonder" on Max. These documents suggest that North Korean animators contributed to these projects, likely without the direct knowledge of the primary studios involved.

Implications and Industry Response

The involvement of North Korean studios in these projects could potentially violate international sanctions, which prohibit economic engagements with entities from North Korea due to its nuclear weapons and missile programs. The U.S. government has previously warned companies about the risks of inadvertently hiring North Korean IT workers, including animators, who might misrepresent their location and identity to secure remote contract work. In response to these revelations, it is recommended that companies enhance their due diligence processes. This includes better verification of work documents, conducting video interviews, and implementing background checks and biometric logins to ensure the authenticity and compliance of their outsourcing partners.

Conclusion

The recent findings underscore the need for greater transparency and compliance in the global animation outsourcing industry. Companies must be vigilant in their outsourcing practices to avoid unintentional breaches of international sanctions and to maintain ethical standards in their business operations. The case also highlights the broader implications of globalization in the media and entertainment industries, where the lines of responsibility and accountability can often become blurred in complex international supply chains.
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