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STASI records suggest IKEA used Cuban prison labor in the 1980s

This story involving labor abuse, Cold War intrigue, and everyone's favorite discount furniture empire has been brewing for about a week but has gotten surprisingly little attention in the U.S. The Miami Herald reported last Friday:

A report that Swedish furniture and housewares company IKEA employed Cuban prisoners to build tables and sofas in the 1980s has provoked a strong reaction among Miami exiles.

The German daily newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, of Frankfurt, recently reported that in September 1987 Cuban authorities negotiated for 35,000 dining tables, 10,000 children’s tables and an unspecified number of sofas to be built for IKEA.

The newspaper said German reporters found the information while reviewing archives of the Cold War era and that East German officials facilitated the deal with Cuba.…

According to information in the archives, East German officials met with Lieutenant Enrique Sánchez, identified as the person in charge of a Cuban agency known as EMIAT, which supplied patio furniture to diplomatic houses and high-ranking Cuban officials. They discussed furniture to be built “in prison facilities of the Ministry of Interior.”

IKEA has already launched an internal investigation into allegations that it contracted to use East German prison labor during the 1970s and 1980s and now says it will broaden the scope of the inquiry.

According to a follow-up story today, records kept by East Germany's infamous STASI show that "an IKEA subsidiary in Berlin and an East German company had contracted for Cuban prison labor to build 45,000 tables and 4,000 sofa groupings in 1987" as part of a larger deal between companies run by Cuba's Ministry of the Interior and the East German government. The deal also "involved Cuban antiques, cigars and guns, according to a researcher in Berlin."

The six Cuban-American members of the U.S. Congress have written a letter demanding a meeting with IKEA executives.

This report is just the latest in a slew of bad press for the Swedish furniture giant in recent years, including allegations of bribery in Russia and a recent book alleging that founder Ingvar Kamprad's past ties to Swedish Nazi groups may have gone on longer than he has admitted.

John Moore/Getty Images

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Students for a Free Tibet responds

On Monday, I posted some thoughts about the death of Adam "MCA" Yauch and the future of the global Tibetan independence movement. Tenzin Dorjee, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, sent in this response: 

The Tibetan Freedom concerts educated countless young people about Tibet, thousands of whom went on to become leaders and organizers in Students for a Free Tibet, the group at the forefront of the protests against Chinese President-in-waiting Xi Jinping's visit to Washington, DC in January 2012. 

The youth has always been a driving force behind nonviolent revolutions. We've witnessed this again in the uprisings that swept the Arab world. The youth movement for Tibet has not faded; it has deepened, taking root across Tibet where a new generation of young Tibetans are writing, blogging, protesting, agitating, and rising up against China's colonial occupation. They know that Tibetans, not the West, will free Tibet. But allies in Western democracies can help us along the way by facilitating and speeding up the process.

Adam Yauch played a landmark role in building grassroots global solidarity for Tibet. This global solidarity, in turn, largely inspired the rebirth of hope in Tibet. This hope has breathed new life into the Tibetan resistance, which manifested itself in the 2008 uprising and the growing resistance movement that continues today. Therefore, Adam will be remembered not only for his brilliance as a musician but also for his unparalleled contribution to the movement that will bring about a free Tibet, and forever enshrine nonviolence as the most effective weapon against oppression.

Tenzin Dorjee
Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet