Ikea has been accused of illegally spying on both customers and employees as two former chief executives prepare to stand trial.
The French subsidiary of Ikea, which employs over 10,000 staff in the country, is facing fines of up to €3.75 million (£3.2 million) over allegations it paid for illegal access to police files.
Over a dozen individuals are due to stand trial in the case which dates back to 2012, and two former chief executives Jean-Louis Baillot and Stefan Vanoverbeke could be fined €750,000 (£643,300) and face sentences of up to 10 years in prison.
Ikea France has been accused of buying information from Frances STIC police records system, which tracks names and personal information on millions of criminals, victims and witnesses.
It reportedly accessed this information illegally from police officials, four of which are also standing trail, to try and catch an employee who was claiming unemployment benefits but drove a Porche.
Ikea is also accused of accessing an employee’s criminal record to determine how they could afford to drive a BMW on low income.
It is understood that 74 employees stand to receive damages in the trial which will last until April 2, and Ikea is also accused of accessing the information of customers it was in dispute with.
READ MORE: H&M fined €35m after collecting employees’ private data in “intensive encroachment” of civil rights
Ikea France sacked four employees and launched an independent investigation back in 2012 when it was first reported by trade unions and French authorities.
Former head of Ikea France’s risk management department Jean-Francois Paris reportedly told judges that over half a €500,000 a year was earmarked for such activities.
“That top executives at such a well-loved company would go out of their way to allegedly spy on employees and customers is shocking to consumers, and this trial will likely be watched closely by fans of the store as well as retail workers and trade unions across Europe,” digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy Ray Walsh said.
“If it is right that private personal information was illegally exploited to investigate both customers and employees, including by paying police for access to criminal files, this would prove a very concerning abuse of power.
“The investigation dates back to 2012, which was prior to the introduction of GDPR, despite this Ikea France could be subjected to fines of up to 3.75 million Euros under pre-existing French data protection laws.”