WASHINGTON, May 10, CMC – Six Cuban-Americans lawmakers have demanded an “urgent meeting” with the North American head of Sweden-based furniture maker IKEA to discuss whether the firm used Cuban prison labour to make some of its furniture in the 1980s.
“It is the responsibility of every company to ensure that its products and their respective components are derived from responsible labour practices,” wrote the two Senators and four House of Representative’s members in a letter to IKEA’s Mike Ward at the company’s North America’s headquarters in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.
“They certainly should not derive from the dark prisons of authoritarian regimes that repress their own populations, including the denial of basic workers’ rights,” they added.
The letter was also signed by Senators Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, as well as South Florida Republican Congresspersons Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and David Rivera, and New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires.
“We want to know the exact circumstances that led IKEA to apparently enter into an accord with the Castro dictatorship to produce some of its furniture in Cuba,” the letter said.
“These are serious allegations, and they have caused much consternation in our communities, and rightly so,” it added.
“Multinational corporations have a moral obligation to assure their businesses are not violating human rights,” the letter continued. “We look forward to getting answers from IKEA on our multiple concerns stemming from these accusations.
Mona Liss, an IKEA spokeswoman, said a senior official at the company’s headquarters in Sweden will meet with the US Congress members “very quickly”.
The letter said the six members wanted the “urgent” meeting to discuss “recent reports alleging that IKEA has knowingly benefitted or sought to benefit from the use of Cuban prison labour to manufacture its products”.
Last week, the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that IKEA had contracted for Cuban prisoners to build 45,000 tables and 4,000 sofa groupings in September of 1987, two years before communist East Germany and democratic West Germany were reunified, as the Cold War ended.
The paper said reporters found the information while reviewing archives of the former East Germany because officials of its communist government had allegedly facilitated the deal with Cuba.
IKEA said that it has been investigating reports since last fall that some of its buyers had signed deals to have prisoners in East Germany build furniture for the company in the 1970s and 1980s.
Liss told reporters that IKEA would now broaden the probe to include the Cuba allegations.
“We take these allegations very seriously,” she said, acknowledging that while IKEA had “limited” test-buy agreements with Cuba, the firm has not had any long-term business relationships with any Cuban manufacturer.
“As far as we know, there have only been occasional test purchases of a limited amount of products from Cuban suppliers in the late ’80s,” Liss said.