The French subsidiary of Ikea has been fined €1 million (£860k) and a former CEO has received a suspended prison sentence for spying on as many as 400 staff.
The world’s biggest furniture chain used private detectives and police officers to collect private information on staff, job applicants, union representatives and some customers. The court focused on the period between 2009 and 2012 but the illegal activity is understood to have stretched back to cover the previous decade.
Satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné and investigative journal Mediapart revealed the elaborate surveillance operation in 2012 after which legal action was brought against Ikea by Force Ouvrière, one of France’s main union groups.
Unions accused Ikea of fraudulently collecting personal data, most notably via illegally obtained police files, and illicitly disclosing personal information.
A court in Versailles today ordered Ikea to pay a €1 million fine, but also gave Jean-Louis Baillot, former CEO of Ikea France, a two-year suspended jail term and a fine of €50,000.
Ikea’s former head of risk management Jean-Francois Paris, who was accused of being at the heart of the surveillance policy, was given a suspended 18-month sentence and fined €10,000.
State prosecutor Paméla Tabardel asked judges to send a “strong message” on the threat of illegal spying by employers. “What’s at stake is the protection of our private lives against the threat of mass surveillance,” she said during the trial.
Mr Paris admitted sharing employee’s details with a private security company. In one case, he wanted to know how an employee could afford a new BMW convertible, while in another he sought to find out why an employee had “suddenly become a protester”.
Several store managers and some HR staff were also involved in the prosecutors’ investigation, according to reports, as they would send lists of job applicants to be screened by police officers.
Parent company Ingka Group said it was reviewing the court’s ruling to see if any further measures were needed, after it took steps to stamp out the surveillance tactics.
“Ikea Retail France has strongly condemned the practices, apologised and implemented a major action plan to prevent this from happening again,” it said in a statement.
Last year, fashion retailer H&M’s German subsidiary was fined €32m for intrusive data collection and analysis of the activities of hundreds of employees.
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