Wednesday, June 27, 2012

IKEA asks for help in Cuban prison labor probe

Posted on Wednesday, 06.27.12

IKEA asks for help in Cuban prison labor probe

The Swedish furniture giant has set up a hotline and asked anyone with
information on a 1987 contract to make furniture in Cuban prisons for
IKEA to call
By Juan O. Tamayo

Furniture giant IKEA has asked for help from anyone with information
regarding a 1987 agreement between government enterprises in Cuba and
the former East Germany to manufacture furniture in Cuban prison
workshops for the Swedish firm.

A telephone hotline has been established in Germany for people "who want
to contribute to clarifying the production conditions among our
suppliers" in the former communist-ruled German Democratic Republic,
said an IKEA announcement Monday.

IKEA hired the firm of Ernst & Young to investigate complaints that one
of its Berlin subsidiaries agreed in 1987 to buy furniture manufactured
in prisons in Cuba and the GDR. It is not clear whether the Cuba part of
the agreement was carried out.

Those with information can contact the hotline Monday through Friday
from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 0800 0007303 (free of charge from Germany) or
011+49 (6196) 996 14023 (from abroad, subject to charges), or by fax at
011+49 (6196) 996 19854.

IKEA executives met early this month with Cuban-American members of the
U.S. Congress and assured them that the firm has no current business
with Cuba and will report back to them on the results of its investigation.

The Monday statement said IKEA's code of conduct for suppliers around
the world "includes a zero tolerance of any form of forced or bonded
labor," and that the company carries out more than 1,000 audits per year
to ensure compliance.

The company "takes the allegations that political prisoners were used to
manufacture IKEA products … in the former GDR (and) in Cuba very
seriously," it added. "Should this have occurred, it is totally
unacceptable and deeply regrettable."

Complaints against IKEA's production in Cuba have not specifically
mentioned political prisoners. Several Cuban former political prisoners
have said they were not required to work.

The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine reported in April that an
IKEA subsidiary in Berlin agreed in 1987 to a furniture manufacturing
deal with two trading companies owned by the GDR government, KuA and
Delta GmbH. The firms in turn contracted some of the work to EMIAT, a
firm run by the Cuban Interior Ministry that sells products made in the
island's prisons.

Documents founds in the archives of the Stasi, the GDR's much feared
state security ministry, showed there were quality problems with the
first batch of Cuban furniture delivered, apparently sofas and tables,
and it was not clear whether the deal continued.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, communism followed and the GDR disappeared
in 1990, reunified with the Federal Republic of Germany, which was
sometimes called West Germany.

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