The home furnishings group Ikea has been ordered to pay €1.1m (£861,000) in fines and damages by a French court after being found guilty of spying on staff.
Two former Ikea France executives were also convicted and fined over an elaborate scheme to gather information on hundreds of employees, job applicants and even customers over several years, using private detectives and police sources.
The group’s former chief Jean-Louis Baillot was handed a suspended two-year prison term and ordered to pay €50,000.
Ikea’s former head of risk management Jean-François Paris, who was accused of being at the heart of the spying system, was handed a suspended 18-month prison term and a fine of €10,000.
They were found guilty of “receiving personal data by fraudulent means”, though the sentences were less severe than sought by prosecutors, who accused them of illicitly carrying out “mass surveillance”.
Judges at the court in the Paris suburb of Versailles found that between 2009 and 2012 the French subsidiary of the Swedish furniture retailer used espionage to sift out perceived troublemakers on its staff, particularly union members, and gather information on customers in dispute with the company. The information collected included details on people’s lifestyles and any previous criminal convictions.
The case was launched after the investigative publications Le Canard Enchaîné and Mediapart uncovered the surveillance scheme in 2012. Magistrates began investigating after the Force Ouvrière trade union lodged a legal complaint.
Baillot, who headed Ikea’s French business from 1996 to 2002, denied any wrongdoing during the trial, which began in March. He was “shocked” by the ruling and is weighing an appeal, his lawyer, François Saint-Pierre, told the AFP news agency.
Solene Debarre, a lawyer for trade unions involved in the case, expressed hope that the verdict would “make some companies tremble”.
“One million euros isn’t much for Ikea, but it’s a symbol,” Debarre said.
The company, which said it cooperated in the investigation, had faced a potential financial penalty of up to €3.75m.
Since the revelations, the company has sacked four executives and introduced a new code of conduct.
A spokesperson said: “Ikea takes the protection of co-worker and customer data very seriously. Ikea Retail France has strongly condemned the practices, apologised and implemented a major action plan to prevent this from happening again. We will now review the court’s decision in detail and consider if and where any additional measures are necessary.”
Ikea France’s lawyer, Emmanuel Daoud, said the company hadn’t decided whether to appeal.
Ikea fined €1.1m by French court for spying on staff