IKEA’s French branch and many of its executives are going to trial on Monday over accusations that they illegally spied on employees and customers.
In 2012, French investigative publications, Le Canard Enchaine and Mediapart, uncovered IKEA France’s illegal surveillance.
Authorities began investigating after the Force Ouvriere union lodged a formal complaint against the company, accusing it of collecting personal data by fraudulent means and the illicit disclosure of personal information.
The union specifically alleged that IKEA France had paid money to gain access to private police files to gain information about specific individuals.
IKEA France denied the allegations, but Sweden-based IKEA fired four executives in France after French prosecutors began their investigation in 2012.
One accusation alleged that IKEA France used unauthorized data to try to catch an employee who claimed unemployment benefits despite driving a Porsche. Another accusation alleged that IKEA France investigated an employee’s criminal record to determine how a particular employee could own a BMW while earning a low income.
Customers in a dispute with the company also alleged that Ikea France inappropriate accessed their personal information.
The former head of IKEA France’s risk management department, Jean-François Paris, revealed to French judges that 530,000 to 630,000 euros a year ($633,000 to $753,000) were saved for such investigations. Paris, as one of the accused, said his department was responsible for handling the illegal investigations into IKEA France’s employees and customers.
Former IKEA France CEOs Jean-Louis Baillot and Stefan Vanoverbeke, and former Chief Financial Officer Dariusz Rychert and store managers are also going on trial. If convicted, the two CEOs face sentences of up to 10 years in prison and fines of 750,000 euros ($894,774). If convicted, IKEA France faces a maximum penalty of 3.75 million euros ($4.47 million). The trial is set to last until April 2.
Additionally, the company also faces potential damages from civil lawsuits filed by unions and 74 employees.
When the investigation first began in 2012, Sweden-based IKEA said it was cooperating with French authorities and had implemented procedures to prevent illegal activity from happening again.
“It would appear inconceivable that a company of this size, with several stores in different countries, would not be aware of the illegality of the private data available to it,” Investigating French judges said about the case.
In France, IKEA employs more than 10,000 people in 34 stores, an e-commerce site and a customer support center.
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