On Friday, Swedish furniture giant, Ikea, issued a profound apology for benefiting from the use of forced labor in East Germany during the dark days of Communism. Although the company was not directly involved, the chain benefited from the use of prisoners by several East German factories that manufactured products for Ikea in the 1980’s.
The announcement, and the resultant apology, comes after auditors, Ernst & Young, revealed the results of a study commissioned by Ikea. Allegations Ikea used slave labor first surfaced last year in the German and Swedish press and the company took steps to uncover the truth by initiating an its own investigation. After the results were made public, Ikea promised to donate funds to finance research projects on forced labor in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR).
Ikea Sustainability Manager, Jeanette Skjelmose, released a statement on the results of the investigation:
“We deeply regret that this could happen. The use of political prisoners in production has never been acceptable to the Ikea Group. 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.”
Ernst & Young conducted a detailed investigation of the matter and Ikea pledged to publish the findings without censorship. The task was complicated by the considerable passage of time since the activities occurred and the difficulty in locating witnesses.
The auditors interviewed more than 90 current and former Ikea employees and former prisoners in the GDR. Historic documents from Ikea and the German federal and state archives were examined and a hotline was established for former prisoners to call in with their testimony.
According to the auditor’s report, Ikea’s suppliers used both criminals and political prisoners, some of whom were imprisoned without trial for criticizing the harsh policies of the government. The prisoners were not compensated for their labor and received no reduction of sentence.
Investigators also explored the possibility that Ikea may have benefited from slave labor in Cuba, which maintained close economic ties with East Germany during the era. They found that Ikea had limited contact with Cuba and only produced a few test products in the island nation.
The report from Ernst & Young concluded:
“Managers were aware of the possibility that political prisoners would be used in the production of Ikea products in the former GDR, but that measures to prevent this were insufficient. The G.D.R. did not differentiate between political and criminal prisoners. During this time period, many innocent individuals were sent to prison.”