Ikea apologises for use of prisoners


Dirk Maschke was 22 when he began working for Ikea in 1986 – as a political prisoner in an East German prison.

He was sentenced to 19 months for, as he recalls, “impeding the operation of state bodies”. His crime: six failed applications to leave the GDR.

Behind bars in the eastern city of Naumburg, he and 50 other political prisoners welded chairs and manufactured hinges for a state-owned company (VEB) supplying the Swedish furniture company.

Mr Maschke (48) told Der Spiegel magazine his working day, from 7am to 3.30pm, was punctuated by irregular meals and regular beatings. Today he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Yesterday Ikea expressed regret for knowingly allowing the use of East German (GDR) political prisoners to manufacture some of their products in the 1980s.

Following critical media reports in Germany and Sweden a year ago, a company investigation found the practice was tolerated throughout the 1980s and that efforts to end it were insufficient and ineffective. According to a summary of its report, Ikea began co-operating with GDR companies in the 1960s. Two decades later this had expanded to contracts with 66 so-called VEBs.

Swedish employees complained about the use of political prisoners but, even after site visits, VEBs continued to use political prisoners to boost production and make up for labour shortages.

“It is very difficult to say how many prisoners were used as we didn’t have direct access to factories and didn’t have that knowledge,” said Josefin Thorell, an Ikea spokeswoman in Sweden. “Around 90 individuals were questioned but this included both active and retired [Ikea] workers.”

The Swedish company says it was aware of the practice from either 1978 or 1981. A company employee told investigators the practice continued after he repeatedly raised the issue in the 1980s.

“We deeply regret this could happen. The use of political prisoners in production has never been acceptable to Ikea,” said Jeanette Skjelmose of Ikea in Sweden.