Former head of Ikea France’s risk management department, Jean-François Paris, is among those accused

Ikea’s French subsidiary and several of its former executives went on trial Monday over accusations that they illegally spied on employees and customers, reports Associated Press.

Trade unions reported the furniture and home goods company to French authorities in 2012, accusing it of collecting personal data by fraudulent means and the illicit disclosure of personal information.

The unions specifically alleged that Ikea France had paid to gain access to police files that had information about targeted individuals. Ikea France denied spying on anyone, but Sweden-based Ikea fired four executives in France after French prosecutors opened a criminal probe in 2012.

One accusation alleged that Ikea France used unauthorised data to try to catch an employee who had claimed unemployment benefits but drove a Porsche. Another says the subsidiary investigated an employee’s criminal record to determine how the employee was able to own a BMW on a low income.

Reputational damage

Customers the company was in a dispute with also allegedly had their personal information inappropriately accessed.

Ikea France, a subsidiary of Swedish furniture company Ikea, said Monday it has cooperated with French judicial authorities and that such activities “seriously undermine the company’s values and ethical standards.”

“Ikea France takes the protection of its employees’ and customers’ data very seriously,” the company said in a statement. It said it adopted compliance and training procedures to prevent illegal activity after the investigation was opened in 2012.

According to AFP, Emmanuel Daoud, a lawyer for Ikea France, acknowledged that the case had revealed “organisational weaknesses” at Ikea France.

He said it had since implemented an action plan, including a complete revamp of hiring procedures.

“Whatever the court rules, the company has already been punished very severely in terms of its reputation,” he said.

Risk manager implicated

The former head of Ikea France’s risk management department, Jean-François Paris, acknowledged to French judges that €530,000 to €630,000 euros a year were earmarked for such investigations. Paris, who is among those accused, said his department was responsible for handling it.

Former Ikea France CEOs Jean-Louis Baillot and Stefan Vanoverbeke, former Chief Financial Officer Dariusz Rychert, store managers and police officers are also going on trial.

If convicted, the two ex-CEOs face sentences of up to 10 years in prison and fines of 750,000 euros. Ikea France faces a maximum penalty of 3.75 million euros. The trial is scheduled to last until April 2.

The company also faces potential damages from civil lawsuits filed by unions and 74 employees.

“It would appear inconceivable that a company of this size, with several stores in different countries, would not be aware of the illegality of the private data available to it,” investigating judges involved in the case said, according to court documents.

In France, Ikea employs more than 10,000 people in 34 stores, an e-commerce site and a customer support center.

H&M GDPR fine

In October, another Swedish retail giant, H&M, received a record €35m fine from the German authorities for the illegal surveillance of several hundred employees at its customer service centre in Nuremberg.

It followed a probe by the State Data Protection Commissioner in Hamburg into H&M management unlawfully sounding out workers about their personal life and storing the details.

According to the European Data Protection Board (EDPB), the records had been kept since at least 2014 and ranged from rather harmless details to family issues and religious beliefs. 

The group admitted shortcomings at the service centre and said it had taken “forceful measures to correct this”.