November 17, 2012 in Business

Ikea regrets use of forced labor

East German prisoners built goods decades ago
Frank Jordans Associated Press
Cuba inquiry

Ikea reported Friday that its investigation found no evidence the company knew of the possible use of Cuban political prisoners to manufacture goods, and that there were no long-term business relations with suppliers in Cuba.

BERLIN – Swedish furniture giant Ikea expressed regret Friday that it benefited from the use of forced prison labor by some of its suppliers in communist East Germany more than two decades ago.

The company released an independent report showing that East German prisoners, among them many political dissidents, were involved in the manufacture of goods supplied to Ikea between 25 and 30 years ago.

The report concluded that Ikea managers were aware of the possibility that prisoners would be used in the manufacture of its products and took some measures to prevent this, but they were insufficient.

“We deeply regret that this could happen,” Jeanette Skjelmose, an Ikea manager, said in a statement. “The use of political prisoners for manufacturing was at no point accepted by Ikea.”

But she added that “at the time we didn’t have the well-developed control system that we have today and we clearly did too little to prevent such production methods.”

Ikea asked auditors Ernst & Young in June to look into allegations aired earlier this year by a Swedish television documentary that were first raised by a human rights group in 1982.

Rainer Wagner, chairman of the victims’ group UOKG, said Ikea was just one of many companies that benefited from the use of forced prison labor in East Germany.

Wagner said he hoped that Ikea and others would consider compensating former prisoners, many of whom carry psychological and physical scars from arduous labor they were forced to do.

“Ikea has taken the lead on this, for which we are very grateful,” he told a news conference in Berlin.

Anita Gossler, a former prisoner, said inmates were forced to sew bedclothes destined for foreign companies.

“There were three shifts each day,” she said. “You couldn’t refuse. If you did you were locked in a dark cell with bread and soup for at least three days.”

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