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Ikea France fined €1m for snooping on staff June 16, 2021

A French court has ordered Ikea to pay a fine of €1m (£860,000; $1.2m) after the Swedish furniture chain was found guilty of spying on staff in France.

Ikea France was accused of using private detectives and police officers to collect staff’s private data.

This included illegally accessing their criminal records in order to vet applicants for jobs.

The Ingka group – which owns most of Ikea’s stores around the world – has apologised and condemned the practices.

In a statement, reported by Reuters news agency, the company said it had “implemented a major action plan to prevent this from happening again”.

On Tuesday former head of risk Jean-François Paris was given an 18-month suspended sentence and a €10,000 fine. AFP news agency reports he once wanted to know how an employee could afford a new BMW convertible, and asked why a staff member in Bordeaux had “suddenly become a protester”.

Former Ikea France CEO Jean-Louis Baillot was given a two-year suspended jail term and €50,000 fine. His lawyer told AFP Mr Baillot was “shocked” by the ruling and was considering an appeal.

The prosecution had called for a €2m fine for Ikea and for Baillot to spend a year in prison, along with a further two years suspended.

How did the spying work?

The 15 people in the dock at the Versailles court included top executives and former store managers. Four police officers were also on trial for handing over confidential information.

The case centred on Ikea France’s surveillance of staff during 2009-2012. Store managers used the mass surveillance system to vet job applicants, as well as to check up on their staff.

They were accused of reviewing staff’s bank account records and using fake employees to report on workers.

Store manager Patrick Soavi told the court how he had got personal data from a cousin in the police. He asked police officer Alain Straboni to “cast an eye” over 49 candidates selected for Ikea jobs.

After a search on the police computer the reply was that three of them had committed minor offences. Later Mr Soavi sent another 68 names to be checked, and he was advised to drop five of the candidates.

“I recognise that I was very naïve and rather over-zealous, but we were being asked to carry out these checks, and once I’d put a foot inside this system it was too late,” he said.

Ikea’s annual bill for private investigators ran to as much as €600,000, AFP news agency reports, citing court documents.

Journalists first exposed the practices in 2012. Stung by the affair, Ikea fired four managers and got a new code of conduct.

How many people were affected?

The illegal surveillance covered about 400 people, state prosecutor Pamela Tabardel said.

“What’s at stake is the protection of our private lives against the threat of mass surveillance,” she said when the trial opened in March.

Managers were found to have used a private security firm, Eirpace, which in turn collected personal data from the police. It included information about lifestyles and any previous criminal convictions.

The Eirpace boss, Jean-Pierre Fourès, was given a two-year suspended sentence and a €20,000 fine.

When the trial opened, Ikea France issued a statement saying it “strongly condemned” the privacy violations and it apologised for “this situation which does serious harm to the company’s values and ethical standards”.

A lawyer for Ikea, Emmanuel Daoud, told AFP that the court had delivered “many acquittals”, having “taken account of the efforts made by Ikea France”. The firm had reformed its governance and set up an ethics committee, he noted.

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