Ikea France is left shamefaced after being found guilty of spying on staff

29th July 2021

It’s relatively common to hear about a company experiencing an attempted (and sometimes successful) cyber-attack and/or personal data breach – in today’s world, not much surprises us.  Well, that is what we thought until we read that a globally recognised brand was being brought under the spotlight for spying on its staff.

Of course, Ikea is a conglomerate of business franchises, so the brand as a whole is not responsible for such unlawful actions. Nonetheless, the name is still embroiled in the scandal.

The guilty party in question, Ikea France, has been ordered by a French court to pay a fine of €1m (£860,000) as a result of spying on its staff by using private eyes and the police to collect staff’s personal data, including accessing criminal records illegally to vet job applicants.

So, who was spied on and how?

The illegal surveillance is said to have covered approximately 400 people. State Prosecutor Pamela Tabardel, in the trial, said in her opening statement, “What’s at stake (here) is the protection of our private lives against the threat of mass surveillance.”

Fifteen people were on trial for specific surveillance crimes, including top Ikea France Executives and former Store Managers. Four police officers also made up the 15 members of the accused, being tried for sharing confidential information.

The case centred on Ikea France’s surveillance of staff during 2009-2012. Store Managers exploited the mass surveillance system to vet job applicants and ‘monitor’ current employees by reviewing staff’s bank account records and using fake employees to report on workers.

Police became involved when one Ikea France Store Manager called in a favour with his cousin in the police force to “cast an eye” over 49 candidates preliminary chosen for Ikea jobs. After searching police files, it was reported back that five of the candidates had minor offences on their records. Later, another 68 names were sent by the same Store Manager to be checked, and he was advised not to employ five of the candidates.

In addition to calling in favours with the local police, Ikea’s annual bill for private investigators ran to as much as €600,000, according to court documents. A private security firm, Eirpace, was found guilty in the trial for collecting personal data from the police, including information about lifestyles and any previous criminal convictions of employees and job applicants.

When the scandal was first brought to light back in 2021 by journalists, Ikea responded by firing four of its managers and publishing a new code of conduct.

And the punishments for spying on staff?

Former Ikea France CEO Jean-Louis Baillot was given a two-year suspended jail term and €50,000 fine for his part in the crime.

The Eirpace boss, Jean-Pierre Fourès, was given a two-year suspended sentence and a €20,000 fine.

Wondering how this might affect you? For advice, guidance, or training, and all things data governance, please contact the specialists here at the Griffin House Consultancy.

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