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Ikea trial begins in France over illegal ‘spying system’ imposed on staff

IKEA’S French operation was in court today as former executives, store managers and police officers face trial for an illegal spying operation that collected private information on staff and customers.

Prosecutors acting on complaints from the Force Ouvriere trade union say Ikea set up a “spying system” across France, gathering information on current and prospective employees.

Former director of risk management Jean-Francois Paris has acknowledged spending €530-630,000 annually (£450-540,000) on private eyes to investigate staff between 2009 and 2012, when the scandal broke.

In one email he asks why a staff member in Bordeaux who “used to be a model employee” has “suddenly become a protester,” noting he is using “anti-globalisation” language and speculating whether his “old guard CGT” behaviour (a reference to the left-wing French trade-union confederation) is down to trade unionism, environmentalism or “eco-terrorism.”

“We want to know how this change happened,” he instructs. In another email, he asks a sleuth to find out how a low-paid employee had been able to afford a BMW. A third email thanks his correspondent for informing him of an employee’s conviction for theft, while another is apparently racist, referring to a couple from Toulouse as “gypsies ... considered dangerous.”

Mr Paris is in court alongside former chief executives Jean-Louis Baillot and Stefan Vanoverbeke, former chief financial officer Dariusz Rychert and managers of certain stores. 

Four police officers are accused of working with surveillance company Eirpace boss Jean-Pierre Foures to provide information on people illegally. Trade unions say that Ikea France paid for access to police files.

The charges include illegal gathering of personal information, receiving illegally gathered personal information and violating professional confidentiality.

The company also passed sensitive information to police, with one internal report recommending that files on an employee should be passed to police “to get rid of that person via a legal procedure outside the company.”

The chief executives could be jailed for up to 10 years if found guilty, while the company faces fines of up to €3.75 million (£3.25m). Ikea could also be ordered to pay damages to individuals and trade unions that have taken up civil suits against it.

Ikea France lawyer Emmanuel Daoud said that the case had exposed “organisational weaknesses” in the company’s operations. Ikea sacked four top executives in 2012 when the probe began.


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