The flap is heating up over allegations that IKEA used Cuban political prisoners to make furniture.
A bipartisan group of ranking Hispanic members of Congress is calling on the company’s president to meet with them and “discuss reports that the Swedish furniture maker reached an accord with the Castro dictatorship to use Cuban political prisoners in the latter part of the 80’s to construct some of its furniture.”
The German daily newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, of Frankfurt, first reported on the matter last week. It said a review of Cold War-era East German police files revealed that the Swedish company had made a deal with Cuba in September 1987 to make 35,000 dining tables, 10,000 children’s tables and 4,000 ‘Falkenberg’ three-piece suites.
IKEA production facilities, the newspaper said, were ‘incorporated in the prison facilities of the Interior Ministry in Cuba.”
The allegations came on the heels of reports of similar practices involving East German prisoners during the 1970s. Those sparked an internal company review, which a company spokeswoman told El Nuevo Herald has now been expanded to look at the reports about Cuba.
“We take these allegations very seriously,” company spokeswoman Mona Liss said in an email, according to El Nuevo’s sister paper, the Miami Herald.
The letter to IKEA president Mike Ward was signed by all six Cuban-Americans in the U.S. Congress: Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ); and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), David Rivera (R-FL), and Albio Sires (D-NJ).
“It is the responsibility of every company to ensure that its products and their respective components are derived from responsible labor practices,” they wrote, adding. “They certainly should not derive from the dark prisons of authoritarian regimes that repress their own populations, including the denial of basic workers’ rights.”
In an accompanying statement, Ros-Lehtinen said, “We want to know the exact circumstances that led IKEA to apparently enter into an accord with the Castro dictatorship to produce some of its furniture in Cuba. These are serious allegations and they have caused much consternation in our communities, and rightly so. ...
“Multinational corporations have a moral obligation to assure their businesses are not violating human rights. We look forward to getting answers from IKEA on our multiple concerns stemming from these accusations.”
Liss told the Miami Herald a senior company official would meet with the Congress members “very quickly.”
Ros-Lehtinen first weighed in on the subject last week, responding to questions from The Huffington Post.
“While these allegations are certainly shocking in their total disregard for human dignity and rights, it would not surprise me one bit that the Castro brothers would do this,” she said in an emailed statement. “To use prisoners of conscience as slave workers in the employment of a foreign power is yet another insult against the Cuban nation by the Castro brothers in their quest to perpetuate their illegitimate regime.”
Diaz-Balart put it even more strongly, and warned that there may be further ramifications.
“It is really, really, really despicable,” he told The Huffington Post, adding that companies “who do business with these totalitarian, terrorist thugs, will potentially face serious legal consequences.”
Congressional Letter To Ikea