Furniture and homeware giant IKEA has been forced to pay a fine totaling €1m after the retailer was found guilty of spying on staff.
The ruling marks the end of a three-month-long trial exposing the company's invasive practices in France.
How long has IKEA been snooping?
IKEA has been fined €1m dollars by a French court for hiring private investigators and using police officers to collect personal and sensitive information about staff between 2009 and 2012.
The story was broken by investigative outlets Le Canard Enchaîné and Mediapart at the time, which led to the termination of four managers and a new code of conduct in an attempt to reform the business' practices.
Investigations began after a legal complaint from Force Ouvrière union, one of the major union confederations in France. Prosecutors believe, however, that the immoral surveillance practices had become deeply entrenched within the company long before 2009.
AFP has revealed that IKEA's bill for private investigators eventually climbed as high as €600,000. Top brass at the company roped in private security firm Eirpace to do their dirty work, which often acted as a middleman between the police and those managers.
What did they want to find out about staff?
The surveillance included illegally accessing criminal record information about prospective employees to vet them for jobs at the company. It was also used to check up on the existing staff in a variety of circumstances.
In total, about 400 staff are thought to have been targeted by the company's surveillance scheme in some way.
Reports from around March, when the trial started, detail how police contacts were called upon to snoop on staff members engaging in all sorts of normal, above-board activity, such as attending protests and buying expensive cars. The Guardian reported at the time that:
An internal Ikea France document recommending handing over its report about an employee to police 'to get rid of that person via a legal procedure outside the company'.
According to the BBC, those on trial were further accused of "reviewing staff's bank account records and using fake employees to report on workers."
Who was on trial?
Fifteen people went on trial during the case, a cohort that included store managers and senior executives. Police officers who were in cahoots with the furniture retailer were also in the dock.
A store manager called Patrick Stoavi admitted to asking a family member who worked in the police force to scope out 117 candidates and was informed by the officer involved to drop five of them.
The court deemed a suspended two-year prison term and an order to cough up €50,000 in fines was the appropriate punishment for Former CEO of IKEA France Jean-Louis Baillot. He denied the charges leveled against him, with his lawyer describing him as 'shocked'.
The former head of risk management Jean-François Paris, on the other hand, was slapped with a €10,000 fine and an 18-month suspended prison sentence.
A bad IKEA
The court case clearly demonstrates how easy it is for bosses to survey their staff members in the 21st century. Companies like IKEA have the access, the technology, and the capital needed to snoop on their employees and, more importantly, are willing to invest in these immoral practices. €600,000 is, after all, no small amount of money.
Coincidentally, although the IKEA staff-snooping saga has been running for over a decade now, the trial comes at a time where workers are being surveilled more than ever before, both before and after hire.
Spurred on by the pandemic, millions of people now working from home have to contend with a boss or management team that can track exactly how long they've spent typing, and what other activity they've been up to in work hours, often invading the privacy of those they interact with by extension.
Cases like IKEA's detail violations of personal privacy that would usually be associated with 'unfree' countries, ones that don't value citizen privacy highly. But these sorts of instances are reminders that attitudes to privacy and surveillance in many countries that purport to be 'free' leave much to be desired.
Noise is regularly made about the injustices of the exploitative, corporate economic system we all live under, most notably what it alienates us from and drives us towards. And, in the relentless pursuit of profit, personal privacy is one of the first things to be compromised.