The French branch of the Swedish retail giant Ikea is on trial on Monday accused of having run an elaborate system for spying on staff and jobseekers with private detectives and police.
Ikea France, as a business unit, will be in the bridge as well as several of its former executives who risk imprisonment.
French investigative publications Le Canard Enchaine and Mediapart revealed the surveillance system in 2012, and prosecutors came to light after the Force Ouvriere union filed a legal complaint.
Prosecutors say Ikea France set up a “spying system” throughout its operations across the country and collected privacy information for hundreds of employees and prospective staff, including confidential information on criminal records.
Since the media revelations broke out, the company has fired four executives, but Ikea France, which has 10,000 employees, still faces a fine of up to 3.75 million euros ($ 4.5 million).
The 15 people who also appear before the court in Versailles near Paris include former store managers and top managers such as former CEO Stefan Vanoverbeke and his predecessor, Jean-Louis Baillot.
The group also includes four police officers who are accused of disclosing confidential information.
The charges include illegal collection of personal information, receipt of illegally collected personal information and violation of professional confidentiality, some of whom have a maximum of 10 years in prison.
“Get rid of that person”
The core of the system is Jean-Francois Paris, Ikea France’s former head of risk management.
Prosecutors say he regularly sent lists of names to be investigated to private investigators, whose total annual bill could amount to 600,000 euros, according to legal documents seen by AFP.
The court is investigating Ikea’s case between 2009 and 2012, but prosecutors say they started almost a decade earlier.
Among their targets was an employee in Bordeaux “who used to be a model employee but has suddenly become a protester”, according to an email from Paris. “We want to know how that change happened,” he said, wondering if there could be “a risk of eco-terrorism”.
In another case, Paris wanted to know how an employee could afford to “drive a brand new BMW convertible”.
Such messages usually went to Jean-Pierre Fources, the head of the monitoring company Eirpace. He would then send confidential information to Paris, which prosecutors say he received from the STIC police database with the help of the four officers.
Prosecutors say the flow of information may even have gone both ways, with an internal Ikea France document recommending that its report on an employee be handed over to the police “in order to get rid of that person through an out-of-company legal proceeding”.
Emmanuel Daoud, a lawyer for Ikea France, admitted that the case revealed “organizational weaknesses” in Ikea France.
He said it had since implemented an action plan, including a complete modernization of recruitment procedures.
“No matter what the court decides, the company has already been punished very severely in terms of its reputation,” he said.
Swedish multinational Ikea was founded in 1943 and is known for its ready-made assembly furniture, kitchen utensils and home accessories that are sold in about 400 stores worldwide.