(Reuters) – A French court on Tuesday ordered IKEA to pay a fine of 1 million euros ($ 1.2 million) for spying on its French staff, after the world's largest furniture retailer was found guilty of incorrectly collecting and storing information about its employees
The French branch of the Ingka Group, which owns most IKEA stores worldwide, was accused of snobbing its workers and certain customers for several years.
The Flatpack furniture group, which has acknowledged that there were some incorrect methods, was accused of violating the privacy of employees by reviewing records of their bank accounts and sometimes using fake employees to write staff reports.
Workers' representatives said that the information was used to target union leaders in some cases or used to IKEA's advantage in disputes with customers after the company trawled data on people's finances and even which cars they drove. It also turned out to have paid for access to police files.
Prosecutors had demanded a fine of 2 million euros. Lawyers for the French CGT union and several people claiming compensation said the final amount was not substantial, but welcomed the result.
"It is the symbolism here that matters," says Solene Debarre, a lawyer representing CGT.
The company said it was reviewing the court decision to see if further action was needed, after taking steps to erase the surveillance tactics.
"IKEA Retail France has strongly condemned the practice, apologizes and implemented a major action plan to prevent this from happening again," says the Ingka Group.
IKEA employs around 1
It is best known for its large out-of-town self-service stores, but many customers have switched online, especially during the pandemic closures when demand for office furniture, food cans and cookware products grew sharply.
The Ingka Group's operating profit until the end of August 2020 fell, damaged by store closures during the coronavirus crisis, even though it has expected a recovery.
The company's former managing director in France, Jean-Louis Baillot, was found guilty in the case and handed over a two-year prison sentence. A judge fined him 50,000 euros for storing personal data.
The accusations focused on the period 2009-2012, although prosecutors said that the spying tactics began in the early 2000s.
A total of 15 people were charged in the trial.  Two of the accused were not found guilty of all charges against them, including a police officer, and Stefan Vanoverbeke, who ran IKEA in France from 2010 to 2015 and still holds a leading position in the group's retail business.
Others were cleared of certain charges, such as systematically disclosing confidential information, but were found guilty of others, including illegal collection of personal data.
The sanctions ranged from a fine of 5,000 euros for a former chief of staff to several suspended prison sentences.
IKEA fired several executives and revised its internal policy after the allegations surfaced in 2012.
The Swedish company has long denied setting up a comprehensive espionage system and was abs. olved on Tuesday for systematically violating personal data.
IKEA operates through a franchise system. Ingka Group is the main franchisee of the brand owner Inter IKEA Group.