VERSAILLES, France – The USB stick mysteriously appeared from an unknown deliveryman. It sparked an explosive attack: a staggering email detailing an intensive effort by Iqya officials in France to dig up information about employees, job applicants and even customers.
“Tell me if these people are known to the police,” read an executive message to a private investigator, conducting an illegal background check of hundreds of hundreds of IKEA job applicants.
“A model worker has become a radical employee representative overnight,” read another. “We need to find out why.”
A decade after those emails surfaced, he is at the center of a criminal trial that has caught the attention of the public in France. Prosecutors are accusing the French house of Ikea, the Swedish houseware is huge, and some of its former engineering officers have a “system of espionage” from 2009 to 2012.
Perceived snooping Used to check employees and union organizers, check workers on medical leave and shape customers seeking refunds for botched orders. A former military operative was hired to carry out some more covert operations.
matter Outraged anger After the email was leaked in 2012 For the French news media, And Ikea immediately fired a number of officers in the French unit, including its former chief executive. There is no evidence that similar surveillance has taken place in any of the other 52 countries, where global retailers recognize a fresh-faced image of stylish throppiness served with Swedish meatballs.
But widespread activity in France, which court documents suggested brought back in 2002, has raised fresh questions about data breaches by corporations in countries that have increased their right to privacy in the digital age.
The case, which is a lawsuit brought by France’s Forces Workers Union and about 120 plaintiff organizations, has also highlighted deep-seated tensions in France between employers and unions, which is more heated than in Sweden. .
Versailles deputy public prosecutor Pamela Tabardel, Iqia France’s headquarters in Plesier, fined 2 million euros ($ 2.35 million) against Ikea France, a one-year prison sentence for two company executives and at least one private investigator Is seeking And fines for some store managers and police officers. In all, 15 people are charged. It is to be decided for June 15 from a panel of judges.
“Ikea arrives in France referring to an image as a homespun retailer with humanitarian values,” Ms. Tabrel told the judges before a filled court room last week, as the trial wrapped up. Instead, she said, IKEA France illegally surveyed at least 400 people and used the information to its advantage.
Ikea’s lawyer, Emmanuelle Doud, denied that Ikea’s stores in France had been subjected to more than two dozen systemic surveillance at the time, and sought to have the charges dropped against the company. He argued that the violation of any privacy was the act of risk management of a single person, Jean-François Paris, a French entity that Mr. Daud said acted “alone” without the knowledge of top IKEA officials.
Mr. Paris testified that the officials of Iquique France were aware of this activity and supported it. “It was not an individual move, but a system was put in place at Ikea’s management’s request,” he said, accusing the company of “cowardice” and blaming it.
A lawyer for Jean Louise Billotte, a former chief executive charged in the case, denied that his client was aware of any systematic surveillance and said that Mr. Balot was unfairly dismissed. had gone.
Lawyers for the victims described a methodological operation run with two methods: one that included background and criminal investigations of job candidates and employees without their knowledge, and another targeted union leaders and members.
Emails and receipts show that Mr. Paris handed over a lot of inheritance to a former, outspoken, former French military operative in Africa, Jean-Pierre Foerres, who ran his own investigative agency and “left no trace” of his work “Boasted.
Mr. Forres surveyed hundreds of job applicants, gaining information from social media and other sources to speed up vetting and hiring as Ikea expanded into France. He also did background checks Customers don’t know Who tangled with Ikea on a large refund. He stressed that he has never broken the law in collecting background material.
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Some Ikea managers tapped police sources to gain access to government databases for job applicants of up to nine people, demanding records on drug use, theft and other serious crimes. According to the plaintiff’s lawyers, those whose files had become “filthy” would not be hired. In form of United States of america, Applicants in France must agree to a background check.
The surveillance involved career workers. In one case, Mr. Forres was hired to investigate whether Ikea France’s deputy director of communication and merchandising, who had been on a year’s sick leave to recover from hepatitis C, noted the severity of his illness when Flare up when managers find out that they have traveled to Morocco.
He approached to pose as an airline worker and asked 12-year-old IKEA employee, Virginia Palin, to submit copies of her passport tickets to win a free ticket offer. The passport confirmed his visit to Morocco.
“Excellent!” Mr. Balot, the then chief executive, wrote in an email to Mr. Paris and Claire Herry, who were directors of human resources. “We will investigate more after Christmas,” he wrote. (Ms. Herry’s attorney, Olivier Baratelli, said there was no evidence that he was aware of the systemic surveillance. The charges against him were dropped.)
Ms. Palin was eventually fired. that Told The New York Times In 2012 she had a second home in Morocco, and she left to avoid her illness. She said that she was so upset by his dismissal that she attempted suicide.
IKEA officials paid special attention to their efforts to recruit unions and members. In 2010, Adele Amara, a union leader at Francoville’s Iquia store northwest of Paris, instigated employees to strike for a 4 percent increase. Ikea said the strike cost him millions of euros in lost sales.
After that, Ikia said Vincent Lacourt, an attorney for one of the store’s French unions, “tried to stop more attacks by turning on the espionage system.” IKEA managers said a surveillance trap was set up to fire Mr Amara and curb terrorist union activity, the plaintiff’s lawyers said.
GSG, a French security company hired by Mr Paris, advised Ikia to set up a “legal trap” for Mr Amara, and sent one of his agents to cash in as a cashier, court documents show. Spying on several other union activists, the interaction with mole guava and his wife decreased the ranks of laborers who held sesame seeds.
“Their plan was to infiltrate the unions and blast them from inside,” Mr. Lacourt said.
Mr. Paris also hired a bodyguard disguised as administrative assistant with the goal, he testified, to protect officers who claimed Mr. Amara had harassed him. Mr Amara was later found liable by a criminal judge for moral harassment after a complaint was filed by Ikea France.
The lawyer of Iquique France, Mr. Daud, said there was no evidence of the unions’ allegations. “There were no victims of union members,” he said.
That claim has not diminished the sense of injustice among the workers, who said they were always marked by the moment they learned that their employer was spying on them.
Soon after Mr. Amara was fired by Ikea in 2011, he said in an interview, a USB stick was delivered to his home by a man who refused to identify himself, including an explosive email trove that led to the lawsuit. Had become the basis of
The documents included receipts of around € 1 million for surveillance work, as well as a 55-page internal report on Mr Amara’s union activities, personal status and legal records when he was a teenager. The names of hundreds of job applicants and employees had to pass through anonymous lists, as well as orders to investigate some clients.
“When I understood that Ikea had been spying all this time, and it was a regular practice,” Mr. Amara said. “It was absolutely real.”
Mr Amara said he took the USB stick to French news outlets, he said, removing media firestorms around IKEA France, leading to a police investigation and the current trial.
“Ikea acted as if it was all powerful on its staff,” he said.
“If Ikea had not been exposed,” he said, “it would just be going.”
Gayle Fournier Contributed to reporting.