Report: Furniture king IKEA used prison labor in Cuba

David Martosko Executive Editor
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Struggling to put together your IKEA china hutch? Hire a Cuban dissident: Chances are his family members have lots of experience with the hardware.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a German-language newspaper, reports that the ubiquitous bargain furniture retailer signed an agreement in 1987 to use Cuban prison labor in its production chain.

The discovery was made in documents from the defunct Communist regime of  East Germany, where accusations have already surfaced that forced laborers built IKEA products in the 1970s and 1980s.

The East German files say IKEA production facilities were “incorporated in the prison facilities of the Interior Ministry” in Cuba.

“Ikea Trading Berlin,” an East German company, was engaged to deliver 49,000 pieces of furniture — all of which were to be constructed in Cuba — an ally of the Soviet Union, which ran East Germany with a puppet government. A “direct shipment from Havana to Sweden” was part of the plan after initial quality-control problems, the records show.

IKEA told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that it had no knowledge of the contract, but that it would look into the allegations. The newspaper reported that it was possible that neither the laborers — in East Germany and Cuba — nor their overseers knew who they were working with.

IKEA furniture didn’t hit the United States until the 1980s, and didn’t became a cultural icon for more than a decade after.

The company said it planned to examine secret service files from the East German Ministry for State Security to learn more about its own history.

“We take this matter extremely seriously,” Ikea spokeswoman Jeanette Skjelmose said. “We have requested documents from the old Stasi archive and are speaking with people who were with us at that time.”

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David Martosko