Ikea accused of mistreating German workers

Swedish home furnishing giant Ikea has been accused of illegal labour practices, including secretly filming its workers, in a German television documentary to air on Tuesday.

The “Frontal21” programme on the ZDF channel said the Swedish furniture retailer kept illegal reports about workers’ health, demanded employees regularly work exhausting shifts and subverted the works councils of its German stores.

“Ikea demands everything from its workers: complete flexibility, physical labour until exhaustion and sickness is almost never excused,” Verdi union official Christina Frank told ZDF.

An Ikea spokeswoman told AFP the ZDF report was “untrue” and that a full statement would be released later.

ZDF gave documents and materials it received from Ikea workers to Gerhard Bosch, a professor at the Institute for Work and Qualifications, to review.

Bosch described Ikea’s practices as part of “a tight-fisted system of control that doesn’t allow employees any free space.”

The ZDF report comes after a wave of similar reports about unauthorized video surveillance of employees by German retailers including the discount chain Lidl and Balzac, a chain of coffee houses.

Ikea has 43 stores in Germany and employees 13,700 workers. Ikea’s German operations reported sales of €3.2 billion (5.9 billion dollars) in 2007.


Ikea will buy back your used furniture at up to half the price

In the run-up to what would in normal times be the festive season sales rush, Ikea has vowed to buy back used furniture from customers to resell – and pay up to 50 percent of the original price.

Ikea will buy back your used furniture at up to half the price
Got any pieces of Ikea furniture at home? You may be able to get rid of it and get money back. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Ikea, the world's largest furniture chain, said Tuesday it would begin buying back used furniture from customers to resell – and pay up to 50 percent of the original price.

The “Buy Back Friday” scheme, timed to coincide with the “Black Friday” pre-Christmas retail frenzy, will run from November 24th and until December 3rd in 27 countries.

“Rather than buy things you don't need this Black Friday, we want to help customers give their furniture a second life instead of making an impulse buy,” said Stefan Vanoverbeke, deputy retail operations manager at Ingka Group, Ikea's parent company.

To address concerns its affordable, flat-pack products encourage overconsumption and waste, the Swedish company had previously said it would start renting and recycling furniture as part of an eco-drive.

Under its buyback scheme, the group said that “anything that can't be resold will be recycled or donated to community projects to help those most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic”.

“Some countries like Australia and Canada for example are currently testing different buyback services, but BuyBack Friday will be the first time that 27 countries do this together,” the statement added.

The Swedish giant employs over 217,000 people and has more than 50 outlets. Its annual turnover is around 40 billion euros ($46 billion).

The group did not specify how it would determine the price paid for second-hand furniture and customers will receive a voucher, not cash, for their products.  

As part of efforts to reduce waste, Ikea has already begun repairing and re-packaging products in every store that have been damaged in transit, as well as allowing customers to return products – including furniture – for resale or donation to charities.