On Friday, Swedish furniture company Ikea apologized for the use of prison labor by its suppliers and the subsequent benefits of this labor, from more than two decades ago in East Germany, reported AP.
From the release of an independent report in Berlin, Ikea disclosed that East German prisoners, many who were political dissidents, had taken part in manufacturing goods that had been supplied to the company 25 to 30 years ago. Ikea managers knew about the potential use of the prisoners in the process and some actions had been utilized for the prevention of this, but they fell short.
The report utilized Ernst & Young auditors to review allegations that had been included in a June Swedish television documentary, but the initial concerns date back to 1982. The allegations had been made by a human rights group.
Ikea manager Jeanette Skelmose said to AP, "We deeply regret that this could happen. The use of political prisoners for manufacturing was at no point accepted by IKEA."
She did also add that "at the time we didn't have the well-developed control system that we have today and we clearly did too little to prevent such production methods."
Ikea isn't the only company that benefited from East Germany prison labor during the 1960s to the 1980s. Rainer Wagner, chairman of the victims' group UOKG, recently said to AP, "Ikea is only the tip of the iceberg."
Wagner expressed hopes that the company, as well as others, would possibly compensate the former prisoners. Many have been physically and mentally wounded from the forced labor.
He said at a Berlin press conference,"Ikea has taken the lead on this, for which we are very grateful."
Peter Betzel, who is the head of Ikea Germany, said the company would continue supporting investigative efforts on East German prisoners and added, "we can exclude with almost 100 percent certainty that such things as happened in East Germany happen elsewhere."
For Ikea, these concerns follow recent ones last month over the company's removal of female photos in Saudi Arabian catalogs.
The company apologized for this, and at the time, the Wall Street Journal’s Ann Molin reported that the action brought criticism by Swedish government officials and raised questions on whether some IKEA franchises violate values that most of the corporate stores consent to.
At the time, IKEA Group spokeswoman Ylva Magnusson said, “As a producer of the catalog, we regret the current situation. We should have reacted and realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalog is in conflict with the IKEA Group values.”