The friendly giant of affordable, hard-to-pronounce furniture is currently under investigation in France for spying on workers and prying into the personal backgrounds of dissatisfied American customers. Two French unions filed complaints, charging that Ikea hired a private detective to snoop into secret police files.
The satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine published emails allegedly exchanged between the head of the company's risk management department, Jean-Francios Paris, and Yann Messian of Surete International (Security International), about getting access to the confidential police files of employees and customers. The newspaper claimed that Surete offered to get the files for 80 euros each, and would also provide access to a database of vehicle owners, reports Agence France-Presse.
If the emails are real, then the Ikea executive specifically requested information on individual employees, including union members, as well as the police files of an American couple who said the kitchen furniture they ordered arrived two months late. The customers were demanding compensation for having to stay in a bed-and-breakfast while they waited. Ikea allegedly wanted to probe their "morality."
The Swedish furniture chain said it would investigate these allegations. But two French unions filed complaints anyway, and last Friday Ikea said police searched its French headquarters, accessing computers and seizing paperwork.
One trade unionist told the French newspaper Liberation that managers had installed surveillance cameras at stores, pointed primarily at workers. Ikea countered that the cameras were there for security purposes because its stores are often in dangerous parts of town.
"The company's ethical rules are very clear," Ikea said in a statement. "We work with honesty and transparency, in whatever country we're present. Respect for people's private lives is among the most strongly held values of the group and we strongly disapprove of any practice which calls that into question."
Ikea largely boasts an excellent reputation among employees abroad as a progressive company, sympathetic to the concerns of labor. But the opinion of American employees has been far less sunny. A Los Angeles Times story last April reported high turnover, union-organization struggles, racial discrimination complaints and general disgruntlement at one of Ikea's factories in Virginia.
Workers complained of mandatory overtime, last-minute weekend shifts and pay freezes. The news sparked some ironic commentary that the U.S. had become a kind of Third World country to Sweden, where it could outsource its production and exploit cheaper labor.
Workers at the Virginia factory voted overwhelmingly to unionize last summer. In January, workers at an Ikea distribution center in Maryland followed suit.
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