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East Germany

East German prison labor once built Ikea components

As anyone who's struggled over the diagrams knows, Ikea furniture is self-assembly. But somebody has to make the individual components. Years ago, that somebody might have been an East German political prisoner.

Shoppers at an Ikea

Symbolbild - Ikea

An investigation commissioned by the Swedish furniture giant has found that political prisoners and other prison labor in the former East Germany sometimes made components for Ikea.

East German victims hope Ikea is step one

Ikea said in a statement on Friday that the Ernst & Young report it commissioned had found that "political prisoners and other inmates were partly involved in the production of components or pieces of furniture that were delivered to Ikea 25 to 30 years ago."

The study also found that representatives of Ikea, now the world's largest furniture company, were aware of this possibility.

Ikea Sustainability Manager Jeanette Skjelmose said the company had taken steps to try to prevent the use of prison labor, but that "it's now clear these measures weren't effective enough."

"At that time we didn't have today's elaborate monitoring systems, and we evidently did not do enough to prevent such types of production," Skjelmose said.

'We regret enormously that this took place'

Ikea said that the investigation had referred to documents from Ikea's archives, those of the national and regional governments in Germany, as well as 90 interviews with Ikea staff, those affected and other contemporary witnesses. The Swedish company had previously come under fire for commissioning a report from a commercial advisory service rather than historians or political scientists.

Various German news outlets had reported a possible link between Ikea and East German prison labor earlier in the year, along with other companies based in the former West Germany. Other prisoners told German papers that they saw items in major mail order catalogs Quelle and Neckermann that they remembered building during their incarceration.

Forced labor was a common fate for prisoners in the former Communist East Germany, whatever the reason for them being jailed, with most being sent to work either in domestic or foreign factories. Precise figures on how many prisoners were involved are not known to this day, though some estimates stretch as high as 100,000. Many such prison laborers are now seeking compensation. Historical and economic experts generally concur that western countries and companies knew about the potential origins of their purchases at the time.

msh/mz (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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