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Ikea admits using East German prison labour

Ikea apologized on Friday after a report confirmed that East German political prisoners were used in the Swedish furniture giant's factories in the 1970s and 1980s.

Ikea admits using East German prison labour

“We are deeply sorry that this could happen,” Jeanette Skjelmose, head of sustainability at Ikea of Sweden, said in a statement.

Following revelations that surfaced in April this year on Sveriges Television’s (SVT) Uppdrag Granskning programme, the furniture company initially rejected the claims, but on Friday admitted that prisoners had been used to make its products.

Ikea had commissioned an investigation into the claims by auditors Earnst and Young which concluded that Ikea furniture had been built using East German prisoners.

Releasing a report, Ikea said there were “indications that political prisoners and convicts were partly involved in producing parts or pieces of furniture that were delivered to Ikea 25 or 30 years ago.”

“In addition, the investigation showed there were Ikea managers who were aware of the possibility that political prisoners would be used to manufacture Ikea products in the former East Germany,” the report added.

While the firm took steps to ensure this did not occur, “it is now clear that these measures were not effective enough,” the furniture giant acknowledged.

“At the time, we did not yet have the well-organised control system we have today and clearly did not do enough to prevent this type of production method,” the firm said.

Meanwhile, Skjelmose explained a similar incident could not occur given the company’s current control systems.

“Using political prisoners in production has never been accepted within the group. During this time, we did not have the well-developed control system and it’s clear that it was not enough to prevent the incident,” she told the paper.

The Ernst and Young report examined documents from the Ikea archives as well as from the German historical files.

The auditors also carried out some 90 interviews with a variety of Ikea employees, prisoners and witnesses.

But the report has already come under fire.

Klaus Schroeder, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University, said: “It would have been simpler to come and ask us because we are the experts on this subject.

Roland Schulz, vice-president of an association representing victims of the Communist regime in East Germany, dismissed the report as “unscientific.”

“Ikea as the guilty party is itself conducting the investigation rather than leaving it to unbiased sources. Therefore we strongly doubt the validity of the results,” he added.

He called for historians and political scientists to carry out a more thorough investigation.

According to media reports, Ikea was far from being the only company to employ forced labour in the former Communist East, noting that the mail-order companies Neckermann et Quelle are also alleged to have observed similar practices.

But Rainer Wagner, the president of the UOKG group representing “victims of communist tyranny” told the Berliner Zeitung daily on Friday that Ikea’s efforts were “a start” and called on other firms to investigate their past.

The UOKG and other victims’ groups have called for a compensation fund to be set up for former forced workers under the East German communist regime.

AFP/The Local/og

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IKEA

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.

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