In May, cheap chic Swedish furniture giant IKEA was rocked with shocking accusations in the German press: That it had manufactured products using forced prison labor in East Germany in the '70s and '80s. Of more interest to Miami, one paper also reported the company had contracted with Fidel Castro to use Cuban prisoners to make sofas.
This morning, IKEA released an independent report into the allegations. It found that indeed German prisoners had been used to make furniture -- but that Cuba only delivered a few dozen samples that were never sold because they didn't "meet quality standards."
"There is no evidence that the IKEA Group was aware of the possible use of political prisoners in Cuba," the company says in a statement.
The Cuban allegations were worrisome enough to IKEA -- which has a store near the Sawgrass Mills Mall in Sunrise -- that its U.S. president met with the Cuban-American delegation in Congress over the summer.
The report released this morning, though, found the company never sold any Cuban-made furniture and was unaware of any ties to prison labor used to produce it.
Independent firm Ernst & Young compiled the report after looking at more than 100,000 documents, interviewing 90 people and opening a hotline for tips about the allegations.
In the end, they found that Cuba did produce 71 sofa suites for the company, but that the furniture was not up to quality standards and was never sold. Here's the company's full statement on the Cuban connection:
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In May, media reported that in the 1980's the IKEA Group may have purchased products from Cuba that were made using prison labor. The IKEA Group took the allegations very seriously and initiated an investigation. In May 2012, Ernst & Young's investigation services were engaged to conduct an independent investigation into the purchase practices in Cuba and in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), as trade with Cuba was supposedly initiated by the former GDR state trade organization.
IKEA US President Michael Ward and IKEA of Sweden Sustainability Manager Jeanette Skjelmose met with U.S. lawmakers from the Cuban- American delegation in June 2012 to assure them the inquiry was a high priority.
This investigation has now been completed. The investigation concludes that the IKEA Group has never had any long-term business relations with suppliers in Cuba and that there is no evidence that the IKEA Group was aware of the possible use of political prisoners in Cuba.
Since May, approximately 20,000 pages of documents from the internal archives of the IKEA Group and 80,000 archived objects at German federal and state archives have been analysed. Around 90 individuals, both active and retired IKEA Group co-workers as well as witnesses from the former GDR have been interviewed. In addition, a public hotline was established and questionnaires to both active and former co-workers were distributed.
The report noted that 71 sofa suites - which included a sofa and two matching chairs - were produced in Cuba as samples for the IKEA Group. At least one set was sent to the former GDR for quality inspection by associates of the IKEA Group. The furniture did not meet quality requirements. There is no evidence that the IKEA Group received other products produced in Cuba.
Since 2000, the IKEA Group has had one of the most progressive and respected supplier codes of conduct in the world (IWAY) and conducts more than 1000 audits per year to confirm compliance by suppliers. IWAY explicitly prohibits the use of forced labor in production.
The report was not as reassuring, though, about IKEA's ties to East German forced labor. The report found that political prisoners and convicts were used to make some furniture in the '80s and '90s and that some managers in the company knew about it.
"We are deeply sorry that this could happen," says IKEA executive Jeanette Skjelmoset. "Using political prisoners in production has never been accepted within the Ikea Group."