Swedish furniture giant in appeal on Cuban prison labour probe

MIAMI, June 28, CMC – Furniture maker IKEA has sought help from anyone with information regarding a Cold War-era agreement between government enterprises in Cuba and the former East Germany to manufacture furniture in Cuban prison workshops for the Swedish firm.


IKEA said here in a statement on Wednesday that it has established a telephone hotline in Germany for people “who want to contribute to clarifying the production conditions among our suppliers” in the former communist-ruled German Democratic Republic (GDR).

IKEA said it has hired the firm of Ernst and Young to investigate complaints that one of its Berlin subsidiaries agreed in 1987 to buy furniture manufactured in prisons in Cuba and East Germany. The communist republic collapsed as the Cold War ended in 1989, leading to reunification with then West Germany the next year.

Earlier this month, IKEA executives met with Cuban-American members of the United States Congress, assuring them that the firm has no current business with Cuba and will report back to them on the results of its investigation.

The statement said IKEA’s code of conduct for suppliers around the world “includes a zero tolerance of any form of forced or bonded labour” 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 said.

“Should this have occurred, it is totally unacceptable and deeply regrettable,” it added.

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.

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. It was not clear whether the deal continued.