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Did IKEA Once Use East German Political Prisoners to Make Its Sofas?

Illustration for article titled Did IKEA Once Use East German Political Prisoners to Make Its Sofas?

The thought of IKEA brings up complex emotions in many of us. On the one hand, their furniture is affordable and reasonably attractive, and always seems to fit that spot where you need a shelf. On the other hand, wandering aimlessly through their giant stores is a special kind of retail hell, their furniture tends to fall apart too fast, and, oh, they've been accused of doing strange and devious things like spying on their employees. Well, now comes another dark truth about the makers of the beloved Billy bookcase. A documentary for Swedish public television is charging that, back in the time before the Berlin Wall fell, IKEA used East German political prisoners to manufacture some of its furniture.


The retailer allegedly worked hand-in-hand with the Stasi, East Germany's hated secret police, and it was in Stasi files where evidence of IKEA's using political prisoners in manufacturing was found. Yikes. Of course, this happened back in the 1970s and 80s, and the IKEA of today says it is deeply troubled by these allegations. They're conducting an investigation, but a spokeswoman said, "So far there are no indications that we would have asked prisoners to be used in manufacturing or known about it." However, last year a documentary for German television leveled similar allegations against the company, saying that inmates, including political prisoners, in several East German prisons were used to make IKEA furniture, including at one factory that was built right next to a prison where they produced their famous "Klippan" sofa. That certainly makes the thought of buying one—or even sitting on one—significantly less appealing.


Ikea accused of using East German political prisoners to manufacture furniture [The Independent]

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Ari Schwartz: Dark Lord of the Snark

I see a lot of flippant comments about all of the German companies of the 20th Century with ties to the Nazi regime, and it's gotten me thinking (dangerous!). Where is the line?

As a Jew, I gladly purchase German goods because I have the sense that Germany, as a people, have owned up to their crimes. I am willing to separate the Germany of today with the Germany of the Third Reich.

And, I find it remarkable how few people in the West are even remotely interested in questioning Japanese goods given how many of them were used in Japan's terrible trip through Asia. By all accounts, the Japanese killed more in China than the Germans could have hoped to have killed in Europe. I suppose it doesn't hit close enough to home.

But here we are, with IKEA having been accused of terrible deeds scarcely 30 years ago, and the question is, "assuming it is true, how does a company proceed? How does it own up?"

Frankly, I don't see the value in indefinitely punishing a company or a people, but I also see the need for genuine contrition and ownership of mistakes. I also like the idea of sending legitimate signals to the market that bad behavior will be met with some kind of consumer response.

On the other hand, I really dislike empty gestures ("like this on Facebook!"), so I question the value of "awareness" in and of itself.


Also, I left the IKEA fold this year for everything but my entertainment cabinet. Couldn't be happier.