Furniture giant IKEA has asked for help from anyone with information regarding a 1987 agreement between government enterprises in Cuba and the former East Germany to manufacture furniture in Cuban prison workshops for the Swedish firm.
A telephone hotline has been established in Germany for people “who want to contribute to clarifying the production conditions among our suppliers” in the former communist-ruled German Democratic Republic, said an IKEA announcement Monday.
IKEA hired the firm of Ernst & Young to investigate complaints that one of its Berlin subsidiaries agreed in 1987 to buy furniture manufactured in prisons in Cuba and the GDR. It is not clear whether the Cuba part of the agreement was carried out.
Those with information can contact the hotline Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 0800 0007303 (free of charge from Germany) or 011+49 (6196) 996 14023 (from abroad, subject to charges), or by fax at 011+49 (6196) 996 19854.
IKEA executives met early this month with Cuban-American members of the U.S. Congress and assured them that the firm has no current business with Cuba and will report back to them on the results of its investigation.
The Monday statement said IKEA’s code of conduct for suppliers around the world “includes a zero tolerance of any form of forced or bonded labor,” 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 added. “Should this have occurred, it is totally unacceptable and deeply regrettable.”
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, KuA and Delta GmbH. 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, and it was not clear whether the deal continued.
The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, communism followed and the GDR disappeared in 1990, reunified with the Federal Republic of Germany, which was sometimes called West Germany.