Ikea has drawn criticism in European media for allegedly buying from wood suppliers who use forced prison labor in Belarus. According to an investigation by Disclose, a nonprofit news outlet in France, at least 10 Belarusian suppliers to Ikea had links to penal colonies over the last decade.
Belarus, which is sometimes referred to as “Europe’s last dictatorship,” is ruled by an autocratic president, Alexander Lukashenko. Under his rule, which began in 1994, the country has been criticized for human rights violations, including those against detainees at its prisons.
Belarus is one of the largest producers of affordable timber in Europe, exporting $3 billion worth of wooden goods last year, half of which went to European Union countries. According to Belarus’ state news agency, Ikea tripled its purchase of Belarusian timber from 130 million in 2018 to 300 million in 2021. The company also received sewn products such as table linens, curtains and towels from Mogotex, which was actively involved with at least four Belarusian penal colonies.
According to Disclose, Mogotex also has allegedly worked with the IK-2 juvenile prison, whose head of prison was placed on a sanctioned persons list by the EU. Disclose alleges at least six Ikea suppliers worked with IK-2 in 2014-2019.
Ikea discontinued sourcing from Belarus and Russia after the latter invaded Ukraine earlier this year. An Ikea spokesperson told The Brussels Times that the company was “deeply concerned about the situation in Belarus,” and had “ceased business activities and began to terminate contractual relations with all suppliers in Belarus” at the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
This report comes just days after Ikea announced a new cost-of-living program for employees in Europe that includes a $10 million euro ($10.3 million) social fund to support workers in need, as well as a 30 percent employee discount on Swedish Food Market items and energy-saving home goods.