During the 1970s, Ikea developed a strong manufacturing presence in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), establishing operations in 65 locations across the country to produce parts and furniture, according to a report by German public broadcaster WDR.
Citing documents taken from the Stasi archives, the broadcaster found evidence of deep cooperation between Ikea and East German authorities.
According to the Stasi files, Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad stated that, while he had no official knowledge of the use of prison labour, if it did indeed exist, “in the opinion of Ikea it would be in society's interests”.
One factory, where Ikea's popular Klippan sofa was produced, stood beside a prison in the town of Waldhiem.
A former prison chief told WDR that prison labour was an expected part of furniture production.
And Hans Otto Klare, who was imprisoned for trying to flee East Germany, told WDR of miserable working conditions at a factory in Naumberg where Ikea fasteners and hinges were produced.
“Our team of workers lived in the upper part [of the factory], where the windows were covered. In the lower part of the building were the machines,” he told the broadcaster.
“The machines were like this: they had no proper seats, no hearing protection, no gloves. It was even more primitive than conditions that already existed in the GDR economy. It was slave labour.”
In an interview, Sabine Nold, a spokesperson for Ikea in Germany, told the programme she had no comment on the revelations.
On the day the programme was broadcast in early Auguest, Ikea also issued a statement claiming they hadn't found any evidence of prison labour, but was nevertheless sorry if it did indeed occur.
The report came just prior to the publication of a new book by Swedish journalist Elisabeth Åsbrink, entitled "And in Wienerwald the trees remain" (”Och i Wienerwald står träden kvar), which includes revelations that Kamprad was more active in Swedish Nazi circles than previously known.
Among other things, Kamprad is believed to have actively recruited new members to Sweden's main war-time Nazi movement the National Socialist Workers' Party (Svensk Socialistisk Samling - SSS).