Ikea’s French subsidiary has been charged with operating an elaborate system to spy on staff and job applicants using private detectives and police officers.
Ikea France, as a legal entity, is being sued in a court in Versailles, along with several of its former executives who could face prison sentences.
The investigative publications Le Canard Enchaîné and Mediapart discovered the surveillance system in 2012, and magistrates began to investigate after the Force Ouvrière union filed a complaint.
Prosecutors say Ikea France has implemented a “spy system” in its French operations, collecting information on the privacy of hundreds of existing and potential employees, including confidential information on criminal records .
Since the revelations, 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 (3.22 million pounds).
Among the 15 people tried by the court are former store managers and executives such as former CEO Stefan Vanoverbeke and his predecessor, Jean-Louis Baillot. The two men were present on Monday but declined to comment to the waiting reporters.
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.
“We are here today to show that there is this type of action within companies that control unions and especially their employees,” a senior official of the CGT union, Amar Lagha, told reporters.
At the heart of the system would be Jean-François Paris, former director of risk management at Ikea France. Prosecutors say he regularly sent lists of names to private investigators, whose combined annual bill could reach € 600,000, according to court documents consulted by Agence France-Presse.
The court is investigating Ikea’s practices between 2009 and 2012, but prosecutors say they began nearly a decade earlier.
Among the 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, which 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 for Ikea France, admitted that the case had revealed “organizational weaknesses”. He said the company 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, the Swedish multinational Ikea offers ready-to-assemble furniture and accessories in around 400 stores around the world.