French Ikea ‘spied on staff and job applicants using private detectives and police who snooped on their private lives and criminal records’
- French Ikea has been put on trial in Versailles over claims it spied on its staff
- Two former CEOs among 15 people on trial, and are facing 10 years in jail each
- They are accused of using a network of private detectives to illegally obtain police records on staff and job applicants
- Four police officers also on trial accused of selling information to investigators
The French branch of Swedish furniture retailer Ikea has gone on trial accused of using a network of private detectives and police to spy on staff.
Ikea executives and store managers were among 15 people on trial today in Versailles accused of illegally snooping on the private lives and criminal records of hundreds of current staff and potential new-hires.
The accused include former CEO Stefan Vanoverbeke his predecessor, Jean-Louis Baillot who are facing a maximum of 10 years in jail if convicted.
Also in the dock are four policemen accused of taking payments to hand over criminal records.
It is thought up to £540,000 was earmarked each year for such investigations, which took place over more than a decade.
The French branch of furniture giant Ikea has gone on trial today as two former CEOs and a host of store managers were accused of illegally spying on staff
Ikea itself is facing a fine of £3.2million along with potential damages from civil lawsuits filed by unions and 74 employees.
The charges include illegal gathering of personal information, receiving illegally-gathered personal information, and violating professional confidentiality,
Prosecutors say Ikea’s French operation began gathering data on staff and job applicants as far back as 1999 while under the leadership of Jean-Francois Paris.
They say Paris regularly sent lists of names for private investigators to snoop on, with people targeted for their political beliefs and spending habits.
Among the targets was a staff member in Bordeaux ‘who used to be a model employee, but has suddenly become a protester’.
‘We want to know how that change happened,’ Paris said in an email, wondering whether there might be ‘a risk of eco-terrorism’.
In another case, Paris wanted to know how an employee could afford to drive a brand-new BMW convertible.
Such messages usually went to Jean-Pierre Fources, the boss of surveillance company Eirpace.
Prosecutors say the furniture store sent lists of names to private detectives who paid to illegally obtain information on staff, including their criminal records
He would then send Paris confidential information, which prosecutors say he got from the police database STIC with the help of the four officers.
Prosecutors say the information flow may even have gone both ways, with an internal Ikea France document recommending handing over its report about an employee to police ‘to get rid of that person via a legal procedure outside the company’.
Emmanuel Daoud, a lawyer for Ikea France, acknowledged that the case had revealed ‘organisational weaknesses’.
He said the company had since implemented an action plan, including a complete revamp of hiring procedures.
‘Whatever the court rules, the company has already been punished very severely in terms of its reputation,’ he said.
Prosecutors began investigating the case after newspapers Le Canard Enchaine and Mediapart uncovered the surveillance scheme in 2012.
Since then, Ikea has sacked four top executives but unions argue the internal measures do not go far enough.
‘We’re here to 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 union, Amar Lagha, told reporters.
French Ikea currently employs some 10,000 people at 34 stores, and announced an overall profit of £2.6billion in 2019.