Wed, 04 Aug 2021

France fines IKEA $1.2 million for spying on employees

Robert Besser
24 Jun 2021, 16:06 GMT+10

PARIS, France: The French branch of Ingka Group, which owns most IKEA stores worldwide, was ordered to pay a $1.2 million fine by a French court for spying on its French staff, as well as some clients, over several years.

The flatpack furniture group was accused of breaching the privacy of its employees by reviewing records of their bank accounts and sometimes using fake employees to write up reports about staff members. The data was then used to target union leaders and to IKEA's advantage in disputes with customers.

The company was also found to have paid for access to police files.

Prosecutors had been pushing for a $2.3 million fine. Lawyers for France's CGT union and several individuals seeking compensation said the final amount was not large, but welcomed the outcome.

"It's the symbolism here that matters," said Solene Debarre, a lawyer representing the CGT, as quoted by Reuters.

The company said it was reviewing the court decision to see if further measures were needed, after it took steps to stamp out the surveillance.

"IKEA Retail France has strongly condemned the practices, apologized and implemented a major action plan to prevent this from happening again," the Ingka group said.

The allegations centered on the 2009-2012 period, although prosecutors said the spying tactics began in the early 2000s.

In total, 15 people faced accusations during the trial.

The firm's former chief executive in France, Jean-Louis Baillot, was found guilty in the case and handed a two-year suspended prison sentence. Judges fined him $59,000 for storing personal data.
Two of the accused were found not guilty, including a police officer, and Stefan Vanoverbeke, who ran IKEA in France from 2010 to 2015 and still has a senior position in the group's retail operations.

Others were cleared on some charges, such as systematically divulging confidential information, but found guilty of others, including illegally obtaining personal data.

The Swedish firm has long denied setting up a widespread espionage system, and was absolved on Tuesday of systematically violating personal data.

IKEA operates through a franchise system. Ingka Group is the main franchisee to brand owner Inter IKEA Group.

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