Ikea pushes back against Belarus prison labour allegations

Furniture giant Ikea on Thursday defended its procedures to verify suppliers following an investigation by media outlet Disclose showed links between several of its former suppliers in Belarus and forced prison labour.

Ikea pushes back against Belarus prison labour allegations
Photo: Lise ├ůserud/NTB/TT/Scanpix

The Sweden-based company, which cut ties with its Belarusian suppliers in March following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, admitted it could not completely rule out the links to prison labour.

“There is, unfortunately, no system in the world that’s so strong that it can guarantee zero risk of misconduct,” the company told AFP.

Ikea said it does “not accept any forced, bonded, and prison labour” and that suppliers must comply with standards, including International Labour Organization conventions.

“To verify that IKEA suppliers are complying with these requirements, we have a well-established process,” the company said, adding it included assessments at suppliers, compliance verification and follow-ups on action plans for “all non-conformities”.

According to Disclose’s investigation, several Belarusian companies that were until recently on Ikea’s list of suppliers have collaborated with a total of at least five prisons and penal colonies.

The Belarusian subcontractors, including Mogotex and Ivatsevichdrev, had relied on prison labour from the prisons IK-2, IK-4, IK-9, IK-15 and Rypp5, according to Disclose’s investigation.

“These are forced labour camps that are particularly brutal, known for practising torture as well as food and healthcare deprivation,” the French media outlet noted.

Ikea announced in early March that it was suspending its activities in Russia and Belarus, and later announced it was withdrawing from both countries.

In Belarus, the furniture company had no shops, but estimated that its subcontractors employed some 10,000 people, compared to 15,000 direct Ikea employees and 50,000 employed by subcontractors in Russia.

The Swedish-based multinational, which is mainly controlled by holding companies registered in the Netherlands, has already been seen another prison labour scandal.

In 2012, following an internal investigation, Ikea admitted that some of its suppliers had used forced labour of political prisoners in East Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.

The internal audit was initiated following revelations by a Swedish investigative programme.

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Ikea to ‘scale down’ operations in Russia and Belarus over Ukraine

Swedish furniture giant Ikea said Wednesday it would "scale down" its activities in Russia and Belarus, after putting them on hold following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Ikea to 'scale down' operations in Russia and Belarus over Ukraine

Along with a slew of Western companies, Ikea announced in early March that it was suspending its Russian and Belarusian activities, affecting nearly 15,000 employees.

“Unfortunately, the circumstances have not improved, and the devastating war continues,” Ingka Group, which manages the majority of Ikea’s stores, said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Businesses and supply chains across the world have been heavily impacted and we do not see that it is possible to resume operations any time soon,” the company said, adding that it and the Inter Ikea Group had “decided to enter a new phase to further scale down the Ikea business in Russia and Belarus.”

The group said the retail business “will remain stopped, and the workforce will be reduced, meaning that many co-workers will be affected.”

Ikea has a total of 15,000 employees in Russia, including 12,500 employed by Ingka Group, the company said.

An Ingka Group spokesman said the company was not yet able to provide details on how many would be let go.

The company added that it planned “to sell out its home furnishing inventory in Russia,” and that the production side in Russia will “reduce the workforce and start the process of finding new ownership for all four factories.”

Two purchasing and logistics offices in Moscow and Minsk would also be permanently closed.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, along with triggering unprecedented sanctions, sparked an exodus of foreign corporations including H&M, Starbucks and McDonalds.