IKEA Used Cuban Prison Labor to Build Furniture, New Report Says UPDATE

Categories: La Habana, News
photo by Daniel S. via Wikimedia Commons
In Miami-Dade, the only thing most folks know about IKEA is that it's the gigantic store worth a drive all the way to Broward because its hip furniture is so damn cheap. But in Europe, the Swedish giant's image has been rocked by recent accusations that in the 1980s, the young company used East German prison labor to build its furniture.

Those claims sailed under the radar in South Florida, but the newest accusations won't: A major German paper now says it has uncovered documents showing that IKEA also signed a contract in 1987 with a Cuban company to produce furniture using forced prison labor on the island.

UpdateIKEA tells Riptide it is "accelerating" its investigation and that the company "take[s] the allegations very seriously." Click through for the full response.

Update 2: IKEA has released an independent report on the allegations. It finds that while several dozen samples were produced in Cuba, they didn't "meet quality requirements."

"There is no evidence that the IKEA Group was aware of the possible use of political prisoners in Cuba," the company says in a statement. Click through for the full response. 


The report comes from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (or FAZ), one of Germany's most prestigious daily newspapers, which also uncovered the earlier documents linking IKEA to East German prison labor.

Here's what the paper found: While combing East German files related to IKEA's contracts in the communist nation, FAZ's reporters discovered that in September 1987, a delegation of East Germans traveled to Havana and met with Enrique Sánchez, the head of Cuban furniture maker Emiat.

The officials, who worked for "IKEA Trading Berlin," signed a contract with Emiat to make 35,000 dining tables, 10,000 children's tables, and 4,000 suites, according to a translation of FAZ's reports by German-English daily the Local


The production sites where Emiat made furniture were "incorporated into the prison facilities of [Cuba's] Interior Ministry," the documents show.

"We take this matter extremely seriously," Jeanette Skjelmose, an 
IKEA spokeswoman, told the German press Monday. "We have requested documents from the old Stasi archive and are speaking with people who were with us at that time."

Riptide has also asked an 
IKEA press contact in the U.S. to comment about the reports; we'll update the post if we hear back.


UpdateIKEA sent Riptide this statement about the reports regarding Cuban prison labor:

IKEA products must be manufactured under acceptable working conditions and since 2000 we have had a very strong code of conduct for suppliers (IWAY) in place to ensure this. This includes a zero tolerance of any form of forced or bonded labour. Even prior to IWAY, the use of political prisoners in production was unacceptable to IKEA. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung article refers to events that supposedly took place around 25 years ago and we will immediately look deeper into this as part of the ongoing investigation in GDR, as well as Cuba. Since last fall an internal investigation is ongoing to give us a more complete picture of our purchase practices in former East Germany, GDR, during the 70s - and 80s. We take the allegations very seriously. We are now accelerating this investigation and have also taken in external expertise. Before the investigation is complete, we will not speculate on the outcome.

Today, we have one of the world's most progressive and respected supplier code of conducts stating our requirements on fair working conditions. We believe that good working conditions are key to reaching good results both for us and our suppliers.

Update 2: IKEA has released an independent report by Ernst & Young that finds the company never sold Cuban-made furniture and was unaware of any ties to prison labor. The firm analyzed 100,000 pages of documents, interviewed 90 people and opened a hotline for tips on the allegation. 

They found that 71 sofa suits were made in Cuba as samples for IKEA, but that the items didn't meet quality standards. The company never received any other furniture made in Cuba, they say. Here's the company's statement:

In May, media reported that in the 1980's the IKEA Group may have purchased products from Cuba that were made using prison labor. The IKEA Group took the allegations very seriously and initiated an investigation. In May 2012, Ernst & Young's investigation services were engaged to conduct an independent investigation into the purchase practices in Cuba and in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), as trade with Cuba was supposedly initiated by the former GDR state trade organization.

IKEA US President Michael Ward and IKEA of Sweden Sustainability Manager Jeanette Skjelmose met with U.S. lawmakers from the Cuban- American delegation in June 2012 to assure them the inquiry was a high priority.

This investigation has now been completed. The investigation concludes that the IKEA Group has never had any long-term business relations with suppliers in Cuba and that there is no evidence that the IKEA Group was aware of the possible use of political prisoners in Cuba.

Since May, approximately 20,000 pages of documents from the internal archives of the IKEA Group and 80,000 archived objects at German federal and state archives have been analysed. Around 90 individuals, both active and retired IKEA Group co-workers as well as witnesses from the former GDR have been interviewed. In addition, a public hotline was established and questionnaires to both active and former co-workers were distributed.

The report noted that 71 sofa suites - which included a sofa and two matching chairs - were produced in Cuba as samples for the IKEA Group. At least one set was sent to the former GDR for quality inspection by associates of the IKEA Group. The furniture did not meet quality requirements. There is no evidence that the IKEA Group received other products produced in Cuba. 

Since 2000, the IKEA Group has had one of the most progressive and respected supplier codes of conduct in the world (IWAY) and conducts more than 1000 audits per year to confirm compliance by suppliers. IWAY explicitly prohibits the use of forced labor in production.
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18 comments
Office Furniture
Office Furniture

Thank you for such a fantastic blog. Where else could anyone get that kind of info written in such a perfect way? I have a presentation that I am presently working on, and I have been on the look out for such information.

Wheel Alignment Equipment
Wheel Alignment Equipment

Action for the goodness of all. Criminal matters are very common now a days that is why we really need to do something.

Juanngomez
Juanngomez

Let's give Ikea the benefit of the doubt and investigate. I remember as a 7 year boy visiting my uncle at La Canaña or Isla de Pino jail. His only crime was to speak out against the injustices. He fought against Batista and then turned against Castro. Anyway I was horrified at going to those places.

Hdezcanton
Hdezcanton

Meanwhile I see no shortage of exiles at the Hialeah Super Walmart buying Chinese products made with prison labor. 

akpsiprez
akpsiprez

Cubans in Miami will continue to buy IKEA. They always talk a good game on Spanish radio but are hypocrites when it comes to practicing what they preach.

Humberto Capiro
Humberto Capiro

UNITED NATIONS: Situation of human rights in Cuba - 24 October 1995 III. CONDITIONS IN THE PRISONS

37. Non-governmental sources have informed the Special Rapporteur that they have recorded the existence of 294 prisons and correctional labour camps throughout the country; it is estimated that there are between100,000 and 200,000 prisoners in all categories; this figure represents a very high proportion of the country's population. It is also a matter ofconcern, bearing in mind the fact that the Special Rapporteur is still receiving reports on the precarious living conditions in the prisons, such as those described below.

38. In early 1995, there was an epidemic of leptospirosis at the Combinado del Este prison which resulted in the deaths of several inmates. More than100 prisoners had to be hospitalized.

39. The Special Rapporteur has received a list of 26 inmates of a section of the Kilo 7 prison, in the province of Camaguey, who allegedly hadtuberculosis. Moreover, in February 1995, an outbreak of diarrhoea apparently affected the great majority of the 1,300 inmates of that prison.An outbreak of tuberculosis at the Combinado del Sur prison in Matanzas has also been reported; there were six deaths at this prison during the pastyear. Cases of scabies also appear to be widespread.http://www.un.org/documents/ga...

Snchpnz
Snchpnz

Normally the left would be outraged and protesting in front of Ikea for using slave labor but since it involves Cuba they'll conveniently look the other way and find a way to blame the U.S. and Cubans in Miami for everything.

Humberto Capiro
Humberto Capiro

Human Rights Watch published an extensive report (LINK PROVIDED) on prison conditions in Cuba in 1999. In it it widely criticized most aspect of the Cuban judicial and prison system.In it criticized the lack of openness of the Cuban regime: "Cuba's refusal to allow domestic or international human rights monitors to conduct regular visits to its prisons casts a veil of secrecy over its extensive prison system, reportedly one of the largest per capita in Latin America and the Caribbean. Cuba refuses to disseminate even the most basic prison statistics, such as prison population figures. Cuba's Penitentiary Establishment Directorate, however, reportedly maintains a centralized, computerized system that would readily make available detailed information about all detainees in Cuba's prisons."

According to an article in the Miami Herald (LINK PROVIDED) in September 2003 Cuba's jails may hold over 100,000 inmates. The same article puts the last visit of any international organization to Cuba's prisons in 1989 (International Red Cross). The UN estimated the number of prisoners in Cuba between 100,000 and 200,000 in its 1995 UNHCR Special Rapporteur's (LINK PROVIDED) report. A figure of 100,000 or more makes Cuba the country with the most prisoners per capita in the world.

International organizations have reported that inadequate food and medical assistance, sexual abuse, limits and restrictions on visits, beatings,... in Cuba's prisons. Amnesty International (LINK PROVIDED) has often started letter letter writing operations to support suffering prisoners of conscience.

I refer to the extensive reports linked to at the top (HRW and Cubafacts) for a more detailed report on abuses in Cuba prisons.

http://www.cubaverdad.net/cuba...

Humberto Capiro
Humberto Capiro

 MIAMI HERALD: Cuban inmates complain of poor conditions, food in video smuggled from Havana prison - Inmates at the Combinado del Este — Cuba’s largest and possibly most notorious prison — complain of prison conditions and lousy food. - By Juan O. Tamayo Ten videos smuggled out of Cuba’s biggest and reputedly worst prison, in an unusually daring operation by a dissident, show grotesquely dirty toilets, grimy walls, leaking sewage and food described as worse than “animal feed.” “Show this video to the international community, how this miserable dictatorship commits cruelties against humanity,” says the videos’ main narrator, an India citizen serving a 30-year sentence in Havana’s high security Combinado del Este prison. 

FOR ENTIRE ARTICLE & VIDEOShttp://www.miamiherald.c...

michael wind
michael wind

they must do the same in miami,many criminals from medicare and mortgage fraud should mane good for latino factorys.

Ncc-1138
Ncc-1138

I dunno, just sounds like some shady shite involving the Cuban Exile community's hatred of anyone who does business with Cuba. How convenient this shit pops up when there are FL politicians ready to sign some crazy law that prohibits people from doing business in Syria or Cuba. Since when does state government have a say in international trade policies? Europe does business with Cuba, that's no secret...it's almost masochistic the way the American government allows the Cuban Exile community to repress Cuba. Seriously, no one hates Cuba, like a Cuban. It's really sad.

Dtaribo
Dtaribo

Does it really matter who makes the furniture. If your in Jail or prison work is not a hotel that you can lay back. Doesn't matter which country you live in if you don't follow the rules you go to prison. If you don't like your leader then do something to change it dot talk shit and then complain when shut happends. People in prison all over the world need to work in jail instead of having the tax payers hard earn money pay for them. Sorry for the misspelling

Yani Fernandez
Yani Fernandez

So true and I am Cuban, I just cant understand it, they should go to fight in Cuba not here in Miami. 

Tim Elfrink
Tim Elfrink

The difference is that in Cuba and in the former East Germany, a lot of those prisoners were behind bars just because they said something that Fidel Castro or Soviet leaders didn't like or practiced a religion that wasn't in favor with the government. You're OK with political prisoners making chic Swedish furniture?

Jason Rahall
Jason Rahall

 You're an authoritarian sycophant for endorsing forced prison labor. Many prisons offer work for small pay through a state-private arrangement which is reasonable. Since the US has the highest percentage per population already in prison, then our economy could pick right up just force those people to build some flimsy furniture. Be careful because you might end up in prison because the private prisons need to keep the rooms occupied to make profits.

nanook5
nanook5

are you ok with america doing the exact same thing?

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