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Ikea: sorry for East German prison labour

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Ikea: sorry for East German prison labour
Photo: DPA
16:06 CET+01:00
Swedish furniture giant Ikea apologised on Friday for using East German political prisoners as forced labour to build furniture in the 1970s and 80s.

After initially denying revelations made this April on SVTSveriges Television, Ikea on Friday admitted that prisoners had been used to make its products in East Germany.

“We deeply regret that this could happen,” said sustainability manager Jeanette Skjelmose in a statement.

Auditors Ernst and Young combed through tens of thousands of documents from the Ikea and German federal archives to produce the report, which Ikea presented at the Stasi victim association UOKG headquarters in Berlin.

Although steps were apparently taken to ensure prisoners were not used, the company did not “have the well-organised control system we have today and clearly did not do enough to prevent this type of production method,” Skjelmose added.

There were managers in the company at the time who knew there was a chance it was happening, the report revealed.

Since the investigation began in May, around 90 people have been interviewed – including prisoners who made the furniture. Both former and current staff were asked to fill out questionnaires and a hotline was made available for those with information.

Before being brought up on SVT, a German television documentary aired on WDR in July 2011 first accused Ikea of using prisoners. The company said in May that they had looked into it, and the accusations were false.

During the 1970s, Ikea developed a strong manufacturing presence in the GDR (German Democratic Republic), establishing operations in 65 locations across the country to produce parts and furniture.

The report came under fire before it was released, as academics questioned why Ikea had paid Ernst & Young to carry out the investigation.

Klaus Schröder, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University, said, "It would have been simpler to come and ask us because we are the experts on this subject."

Roland Schulz, vice-president of an association representing victims of the socialist regime in East Germany, dismissed the report as "unscientific."

"Ikea as the guilty party is itself conducting the investigation rather than leaving it to unbiased sources. Therefore we strongly doubt the validity of the results," he added.

He called for historians and political scientists to carry out a more thorough investigation.

But UOKG president Rainer Wagner told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper that Ikea's efforts were "a start" and called on other firms to investigate their past.

The UOKG and other victims' groups have called for a compensation fund to be set up for former East German forced workers.

The Local/AFP/jcw

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