Swedish furniture giant Ikea has expressed regret that it benefited from the use of forced prison labour by some of its suppliers in communist East Germany more than two decades ago.
The company released an independent report on Friday showing that East German prisoners, among them many political dissidents, were involved in the manufacture of goods that were supplied to Ikea 25 to 30 years ago.
The report concluded that Ikea managers were aware of the possibility that prisoners would be used in the manufacture of its products and took some measures to prevent this, but they were insufficient.
“We deeply regret that this could happen,” said Jeanette Skjelmose, an Ikea manager. “The use of political prisoners for manufacturing was at no point accepted by IKEA.”
But she said: “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 commissioned auditors Ernst & Young to look into allegations aired by a Swedish television documentary in June, but first raised by a human rights group in 1982.
Rainer Wagner, chairman of the victims’ group UOKG, said Ikea was just one of many companies that benefited from the use of forced prison labour in East Germany from the 1960s to 1980s.
“Ikea is only the tip of the iceberg,” he told The Associated Press in an interview earlier this week.
Wagner said he hoped that Ikea and others would consider compensating former prisoners, many of whom carry psychological and physical scars from arduous labour they were forced to do.
“Ikea has taken the lead on this, for which we are very grateful,” he told a news conference in Berlin, where the findings of the report were presented.
Peter Betzel, the head of Ikea Germany, said the company would continue to support efforts to investigate the use of prisoners in East Germany in future.
Today, he said, “we can exclude with almost 100 per cent certainty that such things as happened in East Germany happen elsewhere.”