Ikea 'Deeply Regrets' Using Forced Prison Labor In East Germany

Ikea, regrets forced prison labor in East Germany.


The country no longer exists; and the employer's crime happened decades ago. But in the court of public opinion there is no statute of limitations when it comes to the illegality and immorality of using forced prison labor. It's a lesson that Swedish furniture manufacturer Ikea is learning the hard way.

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On Friday, Ikea issued a formal apology for using furniture components that were manufactured by political and other prisoners in the former East Germany in the 1980s. The revelation that the company was benefitting from prison labor was disclosed in a report by the auditors Ernst & Young. The report said that many employees at the furniture giant suspected that forced prison labor was possibly being used, and they had raised concerns.

"We deeply regret that this could happen," Jeanette Skjelmose, sustainability manager at Ikea, said in a statement. "The use of political prisoners in production has never been acceptable to the Ikea Group." The prisoners were opponents of the East German regime, which was then part of the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War.

Ikea said it will donate money for research projects on forced labor in the former East Germany. (East Germany was dissolved in 1990 as it reunited with West Germany after the Cold War ended.)

The allegation that Ikea used prison labor was raised as far back as 1982 by human rights groups in Sweden, according to The Associated Press. But the airing last year of a Swedish television documentary on the subject reignited public interest. In response, Ikea commissioned a report by Ernst & Young in May, according to The New York Times.

The report detailed the situation that made possible the use of the political prisoners. Facing a labor shortage in the 1980s, Ikea turned to state-owned companies based out of East Germany, which formally was known as the German Democratic Republic.

In choosing its workers, "the G.D.R. did not differentiate between political and criminal prisoners," Ernst & Young wrote in the report. "During this time period, many innocent individuals were sent to prison," the report also said.

At the time, Ikea did have safeguards against the use of forced labor. But visits by Ikea employees to production sites in East Germany were heavily monitored by the East German government, and were only allowed to take place in certain parts of production plants.

Regardless, several employees at Ikea expressed concerns about the possible use of forced labor in producing the components. But no action was taken.

"At the time, we didn't have today's well-developed control system and obviously didn't do enough to prevent such production conditions among our former G.D.R. suppliers," Ikea also said.

For human rights advocates, the experience is not being seen as unique to just one company operating in East Germany.

"Ikea is only the tip of the iceberg," Rainer Wagner, chairman of the victims' group UOKG, told The Associated Press. Wagner is also calling for reparations to be paid directly to the victims.

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Dan Fastenberg

Dan Fastenberg

Associate Editor

Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.

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bidthis

Words are cheap. If they are truly sorry they will go back and establish a fund for the victims of their forced labor with ALL of the profits earned while they were greedily taking advantage of human suffering for their profits.

November 20 2012 at 1:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
YourFtr

Liberals and Democrats always loved buying at Ikea !!??

November 19 2012 at 11:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jonesjamess

What about the Chinese?
Who do you think makes your underwear?

November 19 2012 at 7:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ga7smi

who cares?

November 19 2012 at 7:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
plitiksnly

What is anton babbling about?

November 19 2012 at 5:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
plitiksnly

What about the poor people whose organs get stolen and then put to death, just so some rich lazy dinosaurus can stay alive another hundred years?

November 19 2012 at 5:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
larry

Oops----This ranks up there with Nancy Pelosi's famous quote " We have to pass the bill before we know what's in it ". And now we are finding out all the flaws and screw-ups that are in Obama care. And it doesn't look good. In fact it will cost 4 times per employer as expected. And that is why YOU MAY NOT HAVE A JOB IN THE NEAR FUTURE. WE CANNOT AFFORD OBAMACARE.

November 19 2012 at 12:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
CashewNut

Ikea aint nuthin' but a bunch of Nazi Bastards.....I wouldnt buy a Goddam thing from them or WalMart..Same crap..and that's what they are!

November 19 2012 at 12:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
MERLIN

some things are not forgivable

November 19 2012 at 10:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to MERLIN's comment
Jim

Try to think of the many things you've purchased over the years that were either stamped "Made in China", or had parts or components from China. And, try to convince yourself none of them were made in a prison owned, or military owned factory. Now, either forgive yourself, or be ready for some superior moral person to knock you off your high horse.

November 19 2012 at 1:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
majikthyse02

"We deeply regret that this could happen," Jeanette Skjelmose, sustainability manager at Ikea, said in a statement. "The use of political prisoners in production has never been acceptable to the Ikea Group." OBVIOUSLY IT WAS ACCEPTABLE IN THE PAST AND MOST LIKELY IS NOW AND IN THE FUTURE. THE ONLY THING THAT IS TRULY UNACCCPTABLE TO IKEA, IS TO GET CAUGHT DOING IT! And note that the statement says they find the use of "political prisoners" unacceptable, saying nothing about the use of general prisoners. So chances are your Ikea stuff is still being made by prisoners!

November 19 2012 at 7:37 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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