The subsidiary of Swedish retailing giant Ikea has been put on trial in France. The company, along with many of its former bosses, is facing allegations of running an intricate spying scheme to snoop on employees.
The trial kicked off in a court in Versailles, southwest of Paris, on Monday following nearly a decade-long investigation. The prosecutors allege the company set up a major “spying system” across its operations in the country, illegally collecting data about existing and prospective employees, including such sensitive information as criminal records. The charges include illegal gathering of personal information, receiving illegally gathered personal information, and violating professional confidentiality. Some of the charges carry a maximum prison term of 10 years.
Apart from the whole company going on trial as a corporate entity, 15 individuals have been prosecuted as well. The list includes former store managers and top executives, namely ex-CEO Stefan Vanoverbeke and his predecessor, Jean-Louis Baillot. The former director of risk management of Ikea France, Jean-Francois Paris, is believed to be the mastermind behind the whole scheme.
In addition to the former Ikea bigwigs, the prosecuted group also includes four police officers who have allegedly provided the company with confidential information.
The scandal over Ikea’s alleged spying on workers unfolded back in 2012 after the scheme was uncovered by investigative publications Le Canard Enchaine and Mediapart. The trial focuses on the alleged activities of the company between 2009 and 2012. Yet the spying system had likely existed for at least ten years prior to that, according to prosecutors.
The launch of the trial was praised by French trade unions that have long called for punishing Ikea France over its behavior.
“We’re here today to show that there are these types of actions inside companies that police trade unions and above all their employees,” a senior member of the hard-left CGT labor union, Amar Lagha, told reporters.
The company is believed to have employed a vast army of private investigators to carry out spying, with the bill running up to €600,000 annually, according to court documents. In one instance, the company targeted its employee in Bordeaux, simply because he “used to be a model employee, but has suddenly become a protester,” according to an email sent by Paris, who alleged the staff member might pose a risk of “eco-terrorism.” In another case, the nosy risk management director wanted to know how an employee happened to afford a new BMW convertible.
A lawyer representing Ikea France, Emmanuel Daoud, has admitted the case had revealed “organizational weaknesses” the company experienced. The years-long scandal had triggered major changes within the company and cost many of its top executives their posts.
“Whatever the court rules, the company has already been punished very severely in terms of its reputation,” the lawyer said.
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