Ikea suppliers accused of using forced labor in Belarusian jails
Half of the Belarusian suppliers of Ikea had links to the country’s penal colonies, according to French outlet Disclose.
Many products sold by Swedish furniture giant Ikea were for years made using forced labor in Belarusian jails, according to a report by French media outlet Disclose.
According to the investigation, half of Ikea’s major Belarusian suppliers had links with penal colonies run by the authorities of Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian strongman and Vladimir Putin ally.
In one of the documented cases, Ikea supplier Mogotex purchased textiles from the IK-2 juvenile detention center in 2019. The head of IK-2 was sanctioned by the EU between 2006 and 2014 because of the “inhumane treatment of political prisoners.” Prisoners working in IK-2 received “2 to 5 rubles per month,” less than €2. The average Belarusian wage in September 2022 was 1,637 rubles — about €600.
“Lukashenka’s regime forces prisoners to work hard for free, use them as free labor, including political prisoners,” Franak Viačorka, chief adviser to Belarus’ opposition leader-in-exile Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, told POLITICO.
“Many were sentenced to years of forced labor for participating in marches, for supporting Ukraine or criticizing Lukashenko,” he added: “We encourage all the Western companies to stop any collaboration with the regime, with state companies, with any institutions related to the government.”
“We are aware of recent reports denouncing the alleged used of forced labor in Belarus by Ikea subcontractors. If these reports are confirmed, such practices should stop immediately as they violate human rights,” Peter Stano, EU spokesperson for foreign affairs, said.
Ikea’s cooperation with companies in Belarus officially began in 1999, when Lukashenko was already in power. Over the following years, Belarus became the second-largest supplier of wood to the Swedish company after Poland.
Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ikea’s purchases in the authoritarian state almost tripled from €130 million in 2018 to €300 million in 2021.
An Ikea spokesperson said the company takes “the reports regarding Belarus very seriously and that we never accept human rights violations in our supply chain.”
In June 2021, Ikea decided to stop all new business development in Belarus due to the human rights situation there, according to the spokesperson. The war in Ukraine and international sanctions then “accelerated” the plan to pull out of the Belarusian market. Ikea terminated contracts with their Belarusian suppliers in June 2022.
In 2012, the company admitted that it bought products produced by political prisoners in the former East Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.