Ikea laments use of East German forced labor in past, but remains complicit with Israeli illegality in present

The illegal Israeli settlement Beitar Ilit, one of several that Ikea delivers to


In the 1970 and 80s, political prisoners of East Germany’s feared secret police were forced to work on Ikea furniture, says a recent study by accountancy firm Ernst and Young.

After reports in the media, the Swedish furniture giant commissioned the firm to research the matter. The study revealed that Ikea representatives at the time knew that political prisoners were possibly used, reports the BBC. The company has expressed its deep regrets at a press conference and in a press statement.

But while Ikea has apologized for involvement in human rights abuses of the past, it is complicit with Israel’s unlawful acts of the present.

When Who Profits (a research project of the Tel Aviv-based Coalition of Women for Peace) checked Ikea Israel’s website recently it noted in a 23 November email to me that little has changed  in Ikea’s long-standing policy of offering transport services to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

On the website, customers can calculate the delivery costs to the illegal Israeli settlements of Ariel, Beitar Ilit, and Kalia, all located in the West Bank. Moreover, Ikea confirmed this week in an email to me that it still delivers its products to settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

Complicit in Israel’s settlement enterprise

Ikea also continues to assist settlers in the West Bank with a delivery service.

Ulrika Englesson Sandman, Media Relations Manager of Inter Ikea Systems B.V, owner of the Ikea Concept and worldwide Ikea franchisor, sent me an email on 28 November saying:

It is unthinkable for us to exclude any individual or group of individuals from being an IKEA customer. We welcome all people to the IKEA stores, independent of religion, political view, ethnic background or where they come from.

In the past, the local transport company could not “deliver to areas controlled by Palestinian authorities. The local transport company has, however, during 2010 arranged for that home delivery of Ikea products can take place to people living in the areas controlled by Palestinian Authorities.”

Ikea’s statement shows a failure to distinguish between the indigenous Palestinians who live in their West Bank under Israel’s illegal occupation, and the Israeli settlers who illegally reside in that area. By facilitating services to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Ikea is directly implicated in maintaining the settlements.

Daniel Machover wrote in an email to me on 24 November that “by providing delivery services to illegal settlements Ikea is indeed complicit with unlawful Israeli acts.”

Jeff Handmaker, senior lecturer in law, human rights and development at International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam, added in an email to me on 26 November that: “Ikea is fully complicit with Israel’s violations of international law by creating a situation of normalcy in relation to the illegal settlements.”

For years Ikea provided transport service to illegal settlements

Over 650,000 Israeli settlers live at present in the occupied West Bank, including 300,000 in East Jerusalem, reported British newspaper The Guardian in July. For a detailed map of the location of the settlements click here.

Numerous UN resolutions and the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on Israel’s wall in the West Bank have confirmed that settlements violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention — which states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

However, Ikea has been facilitating delivery services to Israeli settlements in the West Bank for many years.

Already in 2008, the company informed Who Profits by fax about its service to settlements. Two years later, Swedish Radio reported that Ikea in Israel shipped to Israel’s illegal settlements but not to Palestinian cities in the West Bank.

Following this report, the Palestine Solidarity Association of Sweden called on Ikea to stop offering home deliveries to Israeli settlements on occupied territory. Ikea responded to the call in an open letter of August 2010, stating that it could not prevent such deliveries due to EU competition legislation. However, Swedish professor of international law Ove Bring refuted such claims. International law on occupation “can never be eroded by regional or other agreements,” he informed me in an email of 12 December 2010.

Ikea should act upon its stated principles 

In the 1970 and 80s, Ikea’s cooperation with East German authorities lead to the use of forced labor of prisoners including political prisoners. The BBC reported:

conditions in the Stasi prisons were horrific. One near Berlin, for example, had a room encased in thick rubber so that no sound or light could get in. It was designed to break people’s mental health. One former prisoner at the press conference said these rooms were used sometimes for people who hadn’t worked hard enough.

According to Stasi documents cited by German television channel WDR, Ikea’s founder Ingvar Kamprad found the cooperation with the East German authorities to be “completely in the interests of society,” reported British newspaper The Independent on 1 May. At present, Ikea’s code of conduct (“IWAY Standard” [PDF]) excludes the use of forced, prison, bonded or involuntary labor.

Moreover, it recognizes the fundamental principles of human rights as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also says it adheres to the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact 2000 - a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to operating in an ecologically and socially responsible manner. The first two principles state that businesses should support and respect the protection of international human rights within their spheres of influence, and make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

Ikea should take its principles seriously by adopting and applying a fair and lawful policy, which also matches any human rights guidelines it has signed up to. Ikea has distanced itself from forced labor and child labor. The next step would be to immediately end its delivery services to illegal settlements in the West Bank.


Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh