Ikea is not only furnishing people’s bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens. The company’s French unit has also been conducting surveillance of employees and even customers who complained about items that were not delivered. It’s not just that Ikea has a record of what color of couch or size bookshelves that you prefer. Ikea has been able to access personal records including bank account information, driving records, vehicle registrations and property records. It has used these in vetting job applicants and in building cases against employees accused of wrongdoing.
Ikea operates in 42 countries, but the reports about surveillance have only surfaced in France. A regional court in Versailles outside of Paris is currently investigating whether officials in Ikea’s French unit illegally ordered personal investigations of hundreds of people.
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Ikea had itself conducted its own investigation last year following the leaking of internal emails mentioning spying (many written by Jean-François Paris, the French unit’s head of risk management) to the French media. A number of executives including the French unit’s former chief executive, Jean-Louis Baillot, were fired after Ikea’s internal review. Baillot, Ikea’s current chief, Stefan Vanoverbeke, and financial director, Dariusz Rychert, were all questioned recently by the French judicial police for 48 hours prior to the inception of a formal investigation. Paris, who was among those dismissed, is claiming that his spying was approved and even directed by top managers of Ikea France.
The alleged surveillance was not only extensive but went on for a decade. Court documents show that private investigators charged 80 to 180 euros ($110 to $247) per inquiry and that, between 2002 and 2012, more than 475,000 euros in invoices from investigators was approved by Ikea France’s finance department. Only a few of the requests actually led to the discovery of a notable offense, such as theft or harassment.
In February of 2009, Virginie Paulin was dismissed from her position as deputy director of communications and merchandising for Ikea’s two dozen stores in France after she had been on medical leave for a year with hepatitis C. Unbeknownst to Paulin, Ikea officials suspected she was not as sick as she said she was. A private investigator was given her Social Security number, personal cellphone number, bank account details and other personal data.
Paulin (who is is still receiving treatment for her illness) was called into a meeting with Claire Héry, Ikea’s head of human resources for France, in April of 2009. Baillot was, to her surprise, also present and the two officials accused her
… of fraudulently exaggerating her illness — although she said they offered no evidence to support their claims.
She said she left the encounter confused and distraught, feeling “robbed of my self and my reputation.” A few days later, Ms. Paulin said, she attempted suicide.
Paulin continued to press her case and, in 2010, a judge ruled that her firing was “devoid of real and serious justification.” She did not get her job back but was awarded nearly 60,000 euros in compensation and the case would have rested there but then, in 2012, the leaked emails appeared and showed that Ikea had been investigating her.
Ikea customers have also found themselves subjected to personal investigations. A Swedish couple, Pascal and Johanna Denize, ordered 10,000 euros (about $13,740) of Ikea furnishings for a vacation home from an Ikea store located in Évry, south of Paris, but never received any of it at the specified delivery time in mid-December. Their calls went unanswered and they were told they could not cancel the order.
The furniture was finally delivered in February of 2007. By that time, the Denizes had filed a number of written complaints asking for reimbursement for the nights they had stayed at a bed and breakfast due to their furniture not having been delivered and for the delivery fee. They eventually were offered a little more than 1,600 euro.
But before this settlement was offered, the Denizes, like Paulin, had been subjected to a background check by Paris of Ikea France’s risk management department. Paris had given a private detective the couple’s address in France as well as Johanna Denize’s French mobile phone number and asked “is this person known to the police?” As Pascal Denize said in a Skype interview with the New York Times, “It was so ‘Big Brother.’ We felt exposed and afraid” — quite the opposite of the homey, cozy atmosphere that Ikea promotes its wares as providing in our homes.
In a year in which the National Security Agency has been revealed to have obtained information about our cell phone records, emails and other personal data, eavesdropped on the U.S.’s European allies and a whole lot else — knowing that Ikea has been up to the same suggests that a company that seeks to help “warm your home this holiday season” is also doing a lot more, keeping precise tabs on where your home is and what you do in it.