Ikea France fined €1m for spying on its employees

French subsidiary of furniture giant collected data on police records and private finances

Ikea France has been ordered to pay a €1 million fine for spying on its employees. The French subsidiary of the Swedish low-cost furniture manufacturer collected data on the police records, lifestyle and private finances of employees and potential employees.

Though the practice started in the early 2000s, the trial concerned only offences between 2009 and 2012.

Ikea is believed to have spied on about 400 employees, using information provided by private detectives with close professional or family ties to French police. Most of Ikea’s approximately 30 stores in France participated. Ikea spent up to €600,000 annually on such investigations.

Jean-Louis Baillot, who was CEO of Ikea France from 1996-2009, received the most severe sentence, a €50,000 fine and two-year suspended prison sentence. The prosecutor had asked for a €2 million fine for the company, and that Baillot spend a year in prison. Baillot had asked managers of all 30 Ikea shops in France to investigate employees.

Jean-François Paris, who headed Ikea France’s security for a decade, received a €10,000 fine and an 18-month suspended prison sentence. Paris admitted that the company engaged in systematic “mass surveillance” of its employees.

The majority of the 15 defendants were acquitted. When the trial opened in March, Ikea said it “strongly condemned” privacy violations and apologised for “serious harm to the company’s values and ethical standards”.

The case broke on February 29th, 2012, when the Versailles prosecutor received a USB stick containing correspondence between Paris and Jean-Pierre Fourès, a former agent for French domestic intelligence who had set up his own detective agency, called Eirpace.

‘Dangerous gypsies’

Paris sent Fourès the names, dates and places of birth and social security numbers of employees and potential employees he wanted investigated. He asked if a couple in Toulouse were “dangerous gypsies”, how a certain employee could afford a BMW convertible, or why a staff worker in Bordeaux had suddenly become an “agitator”.

The two-week trial took place in March. The verdict was handed down on Tuesday. Paris testified that he knew the system was illegal. Fourès denied having used his contacts in French intelligence to obtain information, though Paris said Fourès had access to the interior ministry’s data bank known as the Stic. Fourès received a €20,000 fine and a two-year suspended sentence.

The store manager in Avignon, Patrick Soavi, received personal data from his cousin Alain Straboni, a policeman.

Reaction to the verdict was mixed among 120 civil plaintiffs. "These fines are not high enough to make Ikea and other companies change their behaviour," said Alexis Perrin, a trade unionist in the Rhône region.

Adel Amara, a trade unionist who was fired after GSG, another private security firm, had one of its agents hired as a cashier to spy on him, said the convictions "show that management cannot do anything it wants to in France".

The court ordered Ikea to pay most of the civil plaintiffs between €1,000 and €10,000.

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is Paris Correspondent of The Irish Times