By FRANK JORDANS, Associated Press
BERLIN (AP) — Swedish furniture giant Ikea will release a report this week addressing claims it benefited from forced labor in communist East Germany, the company and victims groups said Monday.
The report by independent auditors Ernst & Young looks into allegations that Ikea used East German suppliers who employed prisoners — some of whom were political dissidents — to manufacture goods for its stores from the 1960s to 1980s.
"We hope this will be a first step toward a broader investigation into the use of forced labor in East Germany," Rainer Wagner, chairman of the victims' group UOKG, told The Associated Press.
"Ikea is only the tip of the iceberg," he said, noting that similar allegations have been leveled against West Germany mail order companies and former state-owned East German companies that were privatized after unification in 1990.
Wagner, who was himself imprisoned by East German authorities in the 1960s, praised Ikea for acting quickly on the allegations.
The company declined to discuss the findings ahead of Friday's release of the report, which was commissioned after a Swedish television documentary in June repeated claims first aired in Germany last year. But spokeswoman Sabine Nold said Ikea took the allegations very seriously and strongly condemned any use of forced labor.
Wagner said his group has asked the German government, as the legal successor to the communist regime in East Germany, to consider compensation payments for the victims.
Many former prisoners carry psychological and physical scars from the oftentimes dangerous work they had to perform, he said.
In the town of Dessau, where Wagner was imprisoned from 1967 to 1969, inmates were forced to make goods out of sheet metal using hazardous machinery. One in ten lost fingers at work, he said.
"If someone refused they were locked in solitary confinement and given only bread and water for up to 42 days," he said.
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