Ikea France goes on trial over accusations of spying on staff and customers

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Trade unions reported Ikea to French authorities back in 2012, accusing it of collecting data by fraudulent means.

Ikea France has been accused of collecting personal data by fraudulent means and the illicit disclosure of personal information.

The French subsidiary of Ikea and some of its executives are to go on trial over accusations that customers and employees were illegally spied on.

Unions have specifically alleged that Ikea France had paid to gain access to police files that had information about targeted individuals. Ikea France denied spying on anyone, but Sweden-based Ikea fired four executives in France after French prosecutors opened a criminal probe in 2012.

Ikea France, as a corporate entity, will be in the dock as well as several of its former executives who risk prison terms.

French investigative publications Le Canard Enchaine and Mediapart uncovered the surveillance scheme in 2012, and prosecutors got on the case after the Force Ouvriere union lodged a legal complaint.

Prosecutors say Ikea France set up a “spying system” across its operations across the country, collecting information about the private lives of hundreds of staff and prospective staff, including confidential information about criminal records.

Since the media revelations broke the company has sacked four executives, but Ikea France, which employs 10,000 people, still faces a fine of up to 3.75 million euros ($4.5 million).

One accusation alleged that Ikea France used unauthorised data to try to catch an employee who had claimed unemployment benefits but drove a Porsche. Another says the subsidiary investigated an employee’s criminal record to determine how the employee was able to own a BMW on a low income.

The 15 people also appearing before the court in Versailles near Paris include former store managers and top executives such as former CEO Stefan Vanoverbeke and his predecessor, Jean-Louis Baillot.

Former Ikea France director Stefan Vanoverbeke

The group also includes four police officers accused of handing over confidential information.

The charges include the illegal gathering of personal information, receiving illegally gathered personal information, and violating professional confidentiality, some of which carry a maximum prison term of 10 years.

At the heart of the system is Jean-Francois Paris, Ikea France’s former director of risk management.

Prosectors say he regularly sent lists of names to be investigated to private investigators, whose combined annual bill could run up to 600,000 euros, according to court documents seen by AFP.

The court is investigating Ikea’s practices between 2009 and 2012, but prosecutors say they started nearly a decade earlier.

Customers the company was in a dispute with also allegedly had their personal information inappropriately accessed.

Ikea France, a subsidiary of Swedish furniture company Ikea, said Monday that it has cooperated with French judicial authorities and that such activities “seriously undermine the company’s values and ethical standards.”

“Ikea France takes the protection of its employees’ and customers’ data very seriously,” the company said in a statement. It said it adopted compliance and training procedures to prevent illegal activity after the investigation was opened in 2012.

The former head of Ikea France’s risk management department, Jean-Francois Paris, acknowledged to French judges that 530,000 to 630,000 euros a year ($633,000 to $753,000) were earmarked for such investigations. Paris, who is among those accused, said his department was responsible for handling it.

Former Ikea France CEOs Jean-Louis Baillot and Stefan Vanoverbeke, former Chief Financial Officer Dariusz Rychert, store managers and police officers are also going on trial.

If convicted, the two ex-CEOs face sentences of up to 10 years in prison and fines of 750,000 euros ($894,000). Ikea France faces a maximum penalty of 3.75 million euros ($4.47m). The trial is scheduled to last until April 2.

The company also faces potential damages from civil lawsuits filed by unions and 74 employees.

“It would appear inconceivable that a company of this size, with several stores in different countries, would not be aware of the illegality of the private data available to it,” investigating judges involved in the case said, according to court documents.

In France, Ikea employs more than 10,000 people in 34 stores, an e-commerce site and a customer support centre. SOURCE: AP

Last week Tory peer Norman Tebbit admitted Special Branch spied on union leaders, he boosted his recollections during a parliamentary zoom meeting set up by Labour MP Richard Bergan stating that he received regular briefs from special branch on the activities of trade unionists while he was a minister.

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