When we’re searching for simply-styled, low-cost furniture, fixtures and accessories, many of us head for Ikea. But there’s something most of us don’t know: This Swedish company originally used East German prisoners who were incarcerated for their political beliefs, to create these products.
In the November 16th edition of the Guardian, Kate Connolly reports that "a roomful of angry former GDR prisoners first watched–and then started to vent decades worth of anger–as a squirming (Ikea CEO) Peter Betzel formally apologized for using prison labor in the 1970s and 1980s."
Alexander Arnold, who was incarcerated at age 22 for "distributing anti-communist propaganda" when he handed out flyers containing poems by Bertolt Brecht and Hermann Hesse, .says he still has nightmares about the isolation cell where he was sent if he failed to keep up with the heavy work load of making parts for office chairs.
Connolly quotes him as saying, "Each day we worked what amounted to two and a half working days of that of a normal worker on the outside. If we slipped to below 80% of the target set, that’s when they’d throw you in the isolation cell, for 10 days at a time.
"By the end of my 11-month sentence, I knew every part of the process, from the rollers on the feet to the spine of the chair." He was also knew that he and his fellow prisoners were working for Ikea. He says, "It was no secret. Their name was on the boxes which the products were packed into and the prison guards didn’t keep it a secret from us. Everyone knew. I am relieved that this is finally coming to light. I’m glad that Ikea is taking responsibility but I’m sorry it took someone other than Ikea to bring this to light."
Connolly quotes Betzel as saying, "We regret wholeheartedly that this happened. It is not and never was acceptable to Ikea that it should be selling products made by political prisoners and I would like to express my deepest regret for this to the victims and their families. We took steps to ensure that prisoners were not used in production, but it’s now clear to us that these were not decisive enough."
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