Did IKEA Use East German Political Prisoners To Make Its Adorable Furniture?

Putting together IKEA furniture is hard enough for people who go out and willingly buy it, knowing later they’ll be gazing adoringly at the affordability of it all while digesting meatballs. But it would be much worse to be say, an East German political prisoner forced to manufacture the stuff before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Independent says a new documentary airing in Sweden claims that IKEA used prisoners from the formerly communist East Germany to make its products, aided by the Stasi secret police.

SVT, the broadcaster airing the documentary, says its investigators found evidence in Stasi files showing that East German political prisoners were directly involved in IKEA’s manufacturing process in the 1970s and 1980s.

“We are taking this matter very seriously,” IKEA spokeswoman Jeanette Skjelmose was quoted as saying. IKEA is going through its own investigation, she said, adding, “So far there are no indications that we would have asked prisoners to be used in manufacturing or known about it.”

A German public television channel aired a documentary last year that there were at least 65 workshops in East Germany alone that were used for manufacturing IKEA products, and that there were several prisons where inmates were used to make furniture. IKEA said after that documentary that they’d found no evidence that prisoners were part of that manufacturing process.

Ikea accused of using East German political prisoners to manufacture furniture [The Independent]

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  1. Jawaka says:

    This doesn’t bother me in the least. Its not like the cooked the prisoners in ovens.

  2. Jane_Gage says:

    It’s only acceptable to use slave wage labor and prison labor in China because the whole world participates.

    • humphrmi says:

      A big misconception here. China has tougher labor laws than most countries. In the case, for instance, of Foxconn, let’s not forget that Foxconn is a Taiwanese company and has been cited by China several times for violating their labor laws.

      One such tougher law states that workers cannot work more than 50 hours per week, even if they (the worker) consents to the extra work. That’s quite a bit better than even here in the US, where the 40 hour workweek is rarely enforced and can easily be overridden by coercing employees to work 50 or 60 hour workweeks with no additional compensation so that they can keep their jobs.

      If you want to end sweatshops, I suggest you consider starting at home.

      • jimbo831 says:

        How cute. You actually believe the Chinese government.

        Having laws is completely different than enforcing them.

        • incident_man says:

          Exactly, China also supposedly has stringent environmental laws, but they are almost always overlooked at the local/regional level because those laws are bad for the businesses that operate there.

          That way China can say they’re “doing” something about the problem, while the status quo is maintained. Nothing else to see here; move along now.

        • shepd says:

          That sounds a lot like North America.

          When was the last time you got cited for jaywalking, littering, loitering, trespassing, prowling, or any of the many other laws that are only enforced when the police harassed someone that actually didn’t break the law.

      • who? says:

        China has all sorts of laws…..China has so many laws that it’s impossible to exist in China for a day without breaking several. Enforcement, however, is another issue.

        Foxconn may be a Taiwanese company, but the labor abuses are happening in mainland China, to mainland Chinese workers. Foxconn has offices in the US, too (I interviewed for a job at one last year). The labor abuses that happen in mainland China don’t happen in Foxconn’s US facilities.

  3. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    If they were contracting stuff to be built by prisons (which isn’t uncommon), I doubt if they had the option of specifying which prisoners did the work.

    There wasn’t a checkbox on the agreement like this:

    ____ Use political prisoners? (1.5% discount)

    • jimbo831 says:

      If only it did have that box. I know I would check it in a heartbeat, otherwise I would be doing a disservice to my shareholders by not maximizing profits, whatever the non monetary cost.

  4. Doubting thomas says:

    So how much of the senior (aka decision making) executives from the 70′s and 80′s are still working at Ikea?

  5. RedOryx says:

    ….okay?

    Obviously I don’t know the details of this situation, but it’s not that uncommon for prisoners to do contracted work outside the prison.

  6. powdered beefmeat says:

    In Michigan, prisoners make license plates!

  7. Blueskylaw says:

    Time to break the seals on those old dusty filing cabinets and access The Stasi Files.

    • AdviceDog says:

      The Stasi offer a great historical example on why spy agencies should never scrimp on shredders.

  8. Sarek says:

    It’s a big prison camp. Someone’s got to furnish it.

  9. galm666 says:

    Well, let’s say they did. Let’s say the IKEA heads knew.

    This was in the 1970′s and 1980′s. If those heads are still in place, boot them out, take them to prison. If not, find them and take them to prison. This is much like the Nazi-Volkswagen ties. I don’t like them, but we can’t change history even if the right people are brought to justice.

    • shepd says:

      Bingo. If you bought one of many North American and Mercedes cars between the late 70s to now you bought a Nazi manufactured car.

      My father worked at Budd, who made car parts for those companies. Budd was bought by ThyssenKrupp in 1978. Thyssen and Krupp built war machines for Hitler. Krupp, in fact, was outspokenly pro Nazi-Germany (although it didn’t exist at the time, he made it clear that he personally hated Jewish people, socialists, and liberals).

      Trains also, actually, Budd made a lot of trains.

      Consider that before you call for a slight relationship to close a company down. Go after the actual bad people who did the bad things, not the employees who had nothing to do with it at all, and didn’t even KNOW anything was going on (my dad only knew because he worked building nuclear subs in the UK before working at Budd, so war history is of some interest to him).

  10. centurion says:

    “So far there are no indications that we would have asked prisoners to be used in manufacturing or known about it.”

    Why do you think you got such a good price?

  11. Browncoat says:

    As long as they don’t use them to make the meatballs…….Soylent Green.

  12. Browncoat says:

    As long as they don’t use them to make the meatballs…….Soylent Green.

  13. George4478 says:

    I’m not seeing a real “scandal” in the story. It’s not like the Stasi put people in prison in order to make IKEA furniture. Nor, when all the furniture was made, did the Stasi say “well, that’s done. We can release them now.”

    East Germany had political prisoners. They were no more or less a political prisoner if they were assigned “IKEA” as their work detail versus “Collective Farm #17″.

  14. balderdashed says:

    What’s with the outrage? The fact is, there’s a good chance at least some folks reading Consumerist right now are sitting in chairs manufactured by U.S. prisoners. You think our inmates just make license plates? In Minnesota, for example, we have MINNCOR industries, a division of our state Dept. of Corrections. They make office and library furniture, picnic tables and patio accessories, mattresses, pillows, and a whole lot more that’s for sale to the public. And this is a rather benign, comparatively humane example, run by the state. In fact, corporations exploiting prisoner labor for profit is a major issue in the U.S.

    But I get it: East Germany was “bad.” But all of our prisoners are there for legit reasons, we have no “political” prisoners, not in the USA. Here’s an odd fact: the U.S. has five percent of the world’s population, but 25 per cent of the world’s prison population — I’m sure there’s a “good” reason for that. And the fact that over half of our prison population is made up of minorities, well, I guess it just works out that way.

    I’m not saying prisoners shouldn’t make furniture or otherwise be put to work — making stuff for the rest of us might help some of them acquire the skills and work ethic needed to stay out of prison. But let’s not be shocked, shocked, shocked, or pretend that our own standards are so very different. Indeed, some human rights organizations have likened U.S. corporate exploitation of prison labor to 21st Century slavery.

  15. gman863 says:

    I think IKEA discontinued the HÖSTAG series about 30 years ago.

  16. Thopter says:

    Unless they’re still using political prisoners to manufacture the furniture today, I don’t see that it matters.