The French Subsidiary of IKEA is currently in court, standing accused of spying on its employees with a complex system of private investigators and even police officers.
IKEA France is on trial in the French court of Versailles, where it stands accused of running a spying operation on its employees and job applicants. This spying operation, according to prosecutors, involved a network of private detectives, police officers and spying techniques to monitor its employees and vet job applicants.
IKEA’s French subsidiary, as well as a number of its former executives face prison terms for their involvement in the spying of its employees. In total, 15 people are facing charges in the French court, including two former CEOs, Stefan Vanoverbeke and Jean-Louis Baillot.
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The list of defendants also includes four police officers that face charges of distributing confidential police information, and IKEA store managers that likely knew of the spying operation.
IKEA France employs around 10,000 people.
Charges levelled against the IKEA employees include the illegal gathering of information, violating professional confidentiality laws, and receiving illegally-gathered information; some of these charges are accompanied by 10 year prison sentences.
The company has since fired four executives that had a role in the spying scandal, but IKEA’s French subsidiary still faces penalties of €3.75m.
The case was first uncovered by French publications Le Canard Enchaine and Mediapart in 2012, with investigators picking up the case after a legal complaint was lodged by labour union Force Ouvriere.
The court is investigating IKEA’s actions between 2009 and 2012, however, the prosecutors allege that the company’s practices can trace back at least 10 years earlier.
Prosecutors working on the behalf of IKEA’s French employees say that the company and its executive team had established a “spying system” that successfully collected private information on the personal lives of both current employees and job applicants.
“Whatever the court rules, the company has already been punished very severely in terms of its reputation.”
This information, according to the prosecutors, included personal information and criminal records that it was able to obtain through illegitimate police and private investigator connections.
Lawyers allege that Jean-Francois Paris, IKEA’s former French director of risk management was at the forefront of the scandal. They allege that Paris often contacted private investigators with names of applicants and current employees.
The bill for these private investigations totalled €600,000 a year.
In one case, Paris contacted private investigators saying an employee in the South-West of France “used to be a model employee, but has suddenly become a protestor.” Paris added that “we want to know how that change happened,” pondering if it posed “a risk of eco-terrorism” for the company.
Another case involved the purchase of a new BMW convertible by an IKEA employee, where Paris asked how the employee was able to afford it. This query was passed on to private investigators that allegedly contacted four police officers to gain access to the STIC police database.
According to a report from The Guardian, “prosecutors say the information flow may even have gone both ways, with an internal IKEA France document recommending handing over its report about an employee to police ‘to get rid of that person via a legal procedure outside the company.’”
“We are here today to show that there are these types of actions inside companies that police trade unions, and above all, their employees,” a senior union member, Amar Lagha told the press.
Emmanuel Daoud, a lawyer representing IKEA France has said that the company did in fact have “organisational weaknesses,” and added that since the revelations went public, the company has restructured its hiring plans and created a new action plan.
“Whatever the court rules, the company has already been punished very severely in terms of its reputation,” Daoud added.