The French court in Versailles has ordered the home furnishing giant Ikea to pay more than 1 million euros in fines and damages for an espionage campaign against union representatives, employees and some customers in France. Two former executives of Ikea France were convicted and fined for the affair and sentenced to suspended prison terms. Among the other 13 defendants in the trial, some were acquitted and others were sentenced with suspended sentences.
Abel Amara, a former Ikea employee who helped unmask the offense, called the sentence “a big step in defense of citizens.” “I am pleased that there is justice in France,” he added. Unions have accused Ikea France of collecting personal data by fraudulent means, in particular through illegally obtained police files, and of unlawfully disclosing personal information. Ikea France lawyers denied that the company had a “generalized espionage” strategy. A union lawyer, Solene Debarre, expressed hope that the verdict “will shake some companies.” “One million euros is not much for Ikea, but it is a symbol,” said Debarre. The executive in charge of risk management at the time of the espionage, Jean-Francois Paris, admitted before the French judges that € 530,000 to € 630,000 a year were allocated for such illicit investigations. Paris, the only official to admit the illegal action, said his department was responsible for managing the operation on the orders of former Ikea France CEO Jean-Louis Baillot. Paris was fined € 10,000 and sentenced to 18 months with suspended sentence. Baillot, who denied having ordered an espionage operation, was fined € 50,000 and sentenced to two years with a suspended sentence. Another former CEO of Ikea France was acquitted for lack of evidence.
Ikea France lawyer Emmanuel Daoud said the company has not decided whether to appeal. He said the case was characterized by a lack of hard evidence, and noted that the fines were well below the maximum possible. “The court took into account the action plan that Ikea put in place after the disclosure of the facts in 2012. It is very satisfying,” said Daoud. The company fired four executives and changed internal policy after French prosecutors opened a criminal investigation in 2012. The unions said IkeaFrance paid to gain access to police files that contained information on individuals caught. targets, especially union activists and customers who were in conflict with Ikea. The company also faces potential damages from separate civil lawsuits filed by trade unions and 74 employees. Ikea’s French branch has more than 10,000 employees in 34 stores, an e-commerce site and a customer service center.