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Ex-con on how he made furniture for IKEA in the colony – DW – 11/24/2022

The German edition of Taz and the French edition of Disclose published a study involving IKEA contractors in Belarus penal colonies against store policy. Investigators allege that Mogotext, which supplied tablecloths, towels and curtains for IKEA, purchased textiles from No. 2 Correctional Colony in Bobruisk in 2019. The prisoners were paid from 2 to 5 Belarusian rubles a month.

Another supplier is the Borwood holding, its subsidiary Vitebskdrev bought in 2016 boards certified according to IKEA standards in IK-2. “Ivatsevichdrev”, according to the documents for 2015, bought products in IK-5, where furniture is produced. IKEA said they have no direct relationship with the companies named in the investigation. The Swedish company has been active in Belarus since the early 1990s, but ceased cooperation in 2022, following the introduction of sanctions by the European Union that hit woodworking.

“I did not see IKEA representatives in the factory”

DW contacted a former Belarusian prisoner who spent more than five years in IK-5 in Ivatsevichi and was released this year. According to him, it has never been a secret for convicts that part of the products they make go to IKEA. “We were told about this by drivers who came to pick up products, trucks with European number plates drove in,” the source explains. “They supplied both plates and parts for children’s furniture. IKEA representatives in production I didn’t see it, the whole process was controlled by the colony’s employees.

According to the source, many convicts strive to get into woodworking, where rooms are heated and you can earn more: “The amount for living in the colony, food is deducted from the salary, many have outstanding claims, so if 20 rubles enters their hands, then it’s good, but if 80 rubles (about 31 euros at the current exchange rate. – Red.) – you are the richest man in the colony.”

Vadim Korogoda, head of production at 80 Ivatsevichdrev, said in an interview with the Belarusian state television channel STV that the company easily passed the IKEA audit.

What does IKEA say?

“We are very concerned about the messages about our company in Belarus and investigate claims,” IKEA said in response to a request from DW. – We went for it because our company has no place for human rights violations, such as forced and indentured labor (…). We work with suppliers who share our values, such as respect for human rights, and who fit into our strategic plan.”

IKEA store in Mexico City
Every IKEA supplier undergoes a detailed check before a contract is awarded.Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images

The Swedish company explained that before entering into a contract with each supplier, each supplier undergoes detailed checks, including compliance with international sanctions. IKEA takes into account country risk indices obtained from consultancies, internal industry information, audit history and supplier questionnaire. The use of child, forced, prison and bonded labor by suppliers is unacceptable to it, as is corruption and environmental pollution.

IKEA points out that until 2020, before signing a contract with a new supplier, an “initial assessment” was used, in which company representatives came to the manufacturer, talked to employees, studied documents (employment contracts, payments, bank statements, personal files). In addition, IKEA studies information about vendors in media, NGO and government statements.

“Screen IKEA subcontractors?”

Belarusian suppliers have been tested according to these principles, according to the Swedish company. IKEA representatives conducted on-site inspections in factories, and during the pandemic – remotely. “We guarantee that all direct suppliers in Belarus meet the standards social security, environmental protection and working conditions, as specified in our Supplier Code of Conduct,” emphasizes the company’s response to a request from DW.

IKEA catalogue
IKEA does not screen supplier subcontractors before suppliers contract with themPhoto: Anna Ringstrom/REUTERS

Does IKEA screen subcontractors? “IKEA does not directly approve or verify subcontractors of direct suppliers before suppliers enter into contracts with them,” the company clarifies. “The supplier is responsible for regularly checking compliance with mandatory subcontractor requirements, and is also required to report annually to IKEA on subcontractor performance for regulatory compliance.”

Can goods be delivered through “distance companies” to avoid Western sanctions? “To this end, sanctions lists are checked on a daily basis against a supplier database IKEA doesn’t do business with companies or directors subject to sanctions. The ownership structures of suppliers, company addresses, directors, beneficial owners and banks are audited.

DW also asked how the investigation into IKEA’s possible connection to forced labor in the Belarusian colonies affected the company’s sales and reputation, but did not get a direct answer to this question.

IKEA did not contact Belarusian human rights activists

The Human Rights Center “Viasna” regularly issues a report on detention conditions in detention centers in Belarus. According to lawyer Pavel Sapelko, IKEA did not contact human rights activists before contracting Belarusian suppliers or after the scandalous investigation.

Paul Sapelko
Paul SapelkoPhoto: private

“I have not yet seen any facts that would prove that IKEA was sure that Belarusian suppliers cooperated with colonies. One of the former prisoners told us that in Ivatsevichi they make furniture according to IKEA sketches for state institutions, but agreed with IKEA ” – asks Sapelko. – Only the lazy did not cooperate with the Belarusian colonies. Has there always been an audit in terms of human rights compliance? I have big doubts. All in the same Ivatsevichy colony, a businessman from France had his own production site, where they made elite furniture. This story ended with a corruption scandal, the director of a company in the colony was tried for bribery. They also supplied furniture to Russia, Germany, Poland.”

It is difficult for human rights activists to obtain information about the conditions in which prisoners are held and worked in Belarus, as they have no access to colonies and prisons. “According to information of the prisoners themselves, their relatives, employees of ITU, press reports know that the conditions are different, – adds the lawyer of “Vesna”. – In some colonies convicts work on modern machines. In the same Ivatsevichi there are good conditions for woodworking, many regretted that the “Frenchman’s site” was empty. And there are colonies where there is equipment of unknown origin, parts of which fly away and convicts become disabled – there was such a case in our practice.”

How are prisoners paid?

As for the wages serve punishments, that is, two roads that states travel. Either the convict does not pay for his stay in custodial places, but receives a symbolic amount for his work. Or he pays, but then his salary is like that of an ordinary worker. “In Belarus, they formally chose the second path,” continues Pavel Sapelka. “But in fact, the convict, who fulfills the norm every day at work and has no penalties, gets his hands on 10 rubles a month. How can this be called fair payment?”.

The practice of inmates working under contract, including for international companies, is widespread around the world. It is also important whether human rights are respected, Sapelko emphasises. “There are political prisoners in Belarusian colonies and prisons that should not be there at all, and they are also forced to work. This is nothing but forced labor,” the lawyer explains. “A political prisoner cannot refuse, otherwise he will first be sent to a punishment cell, and then they can be tried for willful disobedience to the requirements of the colony administration (Article 411 of the Penal Code, penalty – from 6 months to 2 years in prison – Red.)”.

IKEA has previously been accused of using prison labour. In 2012, for example, the company acknowledged that Political prisoners in the former GDR were involved in such work. After 40 years, the company said it “deeply regrets this”.

Also see:

All new Western companies stop working in Russia

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By Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at cablefreetv.org