Ikea fined over spying on unhappy customers in France

A French court has ordered home furnishings giant Ikea to pay around € 1.1 million (£ 946,600) in fines and damages over a campaign to spy on union officials, employees and some dissatisfied customers in France.

Two former Ikea France executives have been fined and suspended for the scheme.

Among the other 13 defendants in the high-level trial, some were acquitted and others were given suspended sentences.

The jury of the court in Versailles found that the French Ikea subsidiary used espionage between 2009 and 2012 to filter out troublemakers from among its employees and to profile quarreling customers.

Ikea France has been fined € 1 million and approximately € 100,000 in damages for habitually obtaining personal data through fraudulent means.

Unions accused Ikea France of fraudulently collecting personal data, particularly through illegally obtained police files, and of unlawfully disclosing personal data.

Ikea France lawyers denied that the company was pursuing a “generalized espionage” strategy.

Union lawyer Solene Debarre said she hoped the ruling would “shake some companies”, adding: “One million euros is not a lot for Ikea, but a symbol”.

The company, which said it was involved in the investigation, faced a potential fine of up to 3.75 million euros.

Prosecutor Pamela Tabardel urged the court to “deliver an exemplary judgment and a strong message to all businesses”.

The executive responsible for risk management at the time of the espionage, Jean-Francois Paris, admitted before French judges that 530,000 to 630,000 euros were earmarked for such investigations.

Paris – the only official to admit the alleged illegal investigation – said its department was in charge of handling the operation on orders from former Ikea France CEO Jean-Louis Baillot.

Paris has been sentenced to a fine of 10,000 euros (£ 8,600) and an 18 month suspended sentence for fraudulent collection of personal information.

Baillot, who refused to order an espionage operation, was convicted of obtaining fraudulently collected data and participating in the system.

He was sentenced to a fine of 50,000 euros (£ 43,000) and a two-year suspended sentence.

Another former CEO of Ikea France was acquitted for lack of evidence.

Ikea France lawyer Emmanuel Daoud said the company has not yet decided whether to appeal.

He said the case was marked by a lack of hard evidence and holes, noting that the fines were well below the maximum possible.

“The court took into account the action plan that Ikea put in place after the facts were revealed in 2012. That is very satisfactory, ”said Daoud.

The company fired four executives and changed internal policies after the French prosecutor opened a criminal investigation in 2012.

Unions alleged Ikea paid France to gain access to police files containing information on targeted individuals, particularly union activists and customers who had a dispute with Ikea.

In one situation, Ikea France was accused of using unauthorized information to catch an employee who applied for unemployment benefits but was driving a Porsche.

In another alleged illegal curiosity case, the subsidiary reportedly investigated an employee’s criminal record to find out how the low-income employee managed to own a BMW.

The company is also facing potential damage from separate civil lawsuits filed by unions and 74 employees.

The French Ikea subsidiary employs more than 10,000 people in 34 stores, an e-commerce site and a customer service center.

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