VERSAILLES, France – The French branch of Swedish retail giant Ikea is on trial Monday on charges of running an elaborate system to spy on staff and job applicants using private detectives and police officers.
Ikea France, as a legal person, will be on the dock as well as several of its former leaders who risk prison sentences.
French investigative publications Le Canard Enchaine and Mediapart discovered the surveillance system in 2012, and prosecutors seized the case after the Force Ouvrière union filed a complaint.
Prosecutors say Ikea France has implemented a “spy system” throughout its operations across the country, collecting information on the privacy of hundreds of employees and future employees, including including confidential information on criminal records.
Since the media revelations broke, the company has fired four executives, but Ikea France, which employs 10,000 people, still faces a fine of up to 3.75 million euros ($ 4.5 million).
Among the 15 people who also appear in court in Versailles, near Paris, are former store managers and senior executives such as former CEO Stefan Vanoverbeke and his predecessor, Jean-Louis Baillot.
The group also includes four police officers accused of passing on confidential information.
The charges include illegally collecting personal information, receiving illegally collected personal information and breaching professional secrecy, some of which carry a maximum jail term of 10 years.
‘Get rid of this person’
At the heart of the system is Jean-François Paris, former director of risk management at Ikea France.
Prosecutors say he regularly sent lists of names to be investigated to private investigators, whose cumulative annual bill could amount to 600,000 euros, according to court documents consulted by AFP.
The court is investigating Ikea’s practices between 2009 and 2012, but prosecutors say they began nearly a decade earlier.
Among their targets was a Bordeaux staff member “who was once a model employee, but suddenly became a protester,” according to an email sent from Paris. “We want to know how this change came about,” he said, wondering if there could be “an ecoterrorism risk”.
In another case, Paris wanted to know how an employee could afford “to drive a brand new BMW convertible”.
These messages were generally addressed to Jean-Pierre Fources, the boss of the surveillance company Eirpace. He would then send confidential information to Paris that prosecutors say they obtained from the STIC police database with the help of the four officers.
Prosecutors say the flow of information may have even gone both ways, with an internal Ikea France document recommending handing over its report on an employee to the police “to get rid of that person through legal proceedings. outside the company ”.
Emmanuel Daoud, lawyer at Ikea France, admitted that the case had revealed “organizational weaknesses” at Ikea France.
He said he has since implemented an action plan, including a complete overhaul of recruitment procedures.
“Whatever the court rules, the company has already been severely punished because of its reputation,” he said.
Founded in 1943, Swedish multinational Ikea is famous for its ready-to-assemble furniture, kitchen appliances and home accessories, sold in around 400 stores around the world.
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