BERLIN Ikea has long been famous for its inexpensive, some-assembly-required furniture. On Friday the company admitted that political prisoners in the former East Germany provided some of the labor that helped it keep its prices so low.
A report by auditors at Ernst & Young concluded that Ikea, a Swedish company, knowingly benefited from forced labor in the former East Germany to manufacture some of its products in the 1980s. Ikea had commissioned the report in May as a result of accusations that both political and criminal prisoners were involved in making components of Ikea furniture and that some Ikea employees knew about it.
“Even though Ikea Group took steps to secure that prisoners were not used in production, it is now clear that these measures were not effective enough,” the company said in a statement Friday.
The use of political prisoners as forced labor, even decades ago, is a publicity disaster for a company that with its familiar blue and yellow logo seems at times like a cultural ambassador for Sweden.
Accusations against Ikea started to appear about a year ago in media reports in Germany and Sweden. Ikea’s admission has given new impetus to efforts by victims’ groups to receive compensation for work they were forced to perform under the Communist government in East Germany, an issue that has long been overshadowed here by the large and deadly slave-labor program under the Nazis.
“There’s little recognition,” said Hugo Diederich, the chairman of the Association of Victims of Stalinism, himself a former forced laborer, after a news conference here a short walk from the former Checkpoint Charlie border crossing, in a building that stands along the path of the Berlin Wall.
Ikea is not the only company that has been linked to forced labor in the former East Germany by purchasing goods from suppliers there, although the actual number may never be known.
At least two well-known mail-order companies in the former West Germany, Neckermann and Quelle, which have since run into financial trouble, have also been accused of using forced labor.
Investigators examined 20,000 pages of internal Ikea records, as well as 80,000 pages of documents from federal and state archives. They interviewed some 90 people, including current and former Ikea workers and witnesses from East Germany.
Ikea said Friday it was sorry about the incidents and pledged to donate money to research forced labor in the former German Democratic Republic.
“We deeply regret that this could happen,” Jeanette Skjelmose, sustainability manager at Ikea, said in a statement.