The unions denounced the furniture and household goods company to French authorities in 2012, accusing it of collecting personal data by fraudulent means and of unlawfully disclosing personal information.
A charge alleged that Ikea France used unauthorized data to try to catch an employee who had applied for unemployment benefits but was driving a Porsche. Another says the branch investigated an employee’s criminal record to determine how the employee was able to own a BMW on a low income.
Customers with whom the company was in dispute were also said to have inappropriately accessed their personal information.
The former head of risk management at Ikea France, Jean-François Paris, admitted to French judges that 530,000 to 630,000 euros per year (633,000 to 753,000 dollars) were spent on such investigations. Paris, who is among the defendants, said his department was responsible for managing it.
Former Ikea France CEOs Jean-Louis Baillot and Stefan Vanoverbeke, and former CFO Dariusz Rychert and store managers are also on trial.
If found guilty, the two ex-CEOs face penalties of up to 10 years in prison and fines of 750,000 euros. Ikea France faces a maximum penalty of 3.75 million euros. The trial is expected to last until April 2.
The company also faces potential damages due to civil lawsuits brought by unions and 74 employees.
Ikea France is a subsidiary of the Swedish furniture giant Ikea. who, in 2012, declared to cooperate with the French judicial authorities and to have adopted procedures to prevent illegal activities.
“It would seem inconceivable that a company of this size, with several stores in different countries, is not aware of the illegality of the private data at its disposal,” said the investigating judges involved in the case.
In France, Ikea employs more than 10,000 people in 34 stores, an e-commerce site and a customer support center.