Posted on Tuesday, 05.08.12
Cuban Americans in Congress want meeting with IKEA over Cuban prisoners
To ask if Cuban prison labor was used to make furniture for the Swedish
By Juan O. Tamayo
The six Cuban-Americans in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday demanded "an
urgent meeting" with the head of IKEA in North America to discuss
whether the company used Cuban prison labor to make some of its
furniture in the 1980s.
"It is the responsibility of every company to ensure that its products
and their respective components are derived from responsible labor
practices," the two Senators and four House members wrote in a letter to
IKEA's Mike Ward.
"They certainly should not derive from the dark prisons of authoritarian
regimes that repress their own populations, including the denial of
basic workers' rights," added the letter to Ward, head of IKEA North
It was signed by Sens. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Bob
Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, as well as South Florida
Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and David Rivera and
New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires.
"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," said a statement issued by Ros-Lehtinen's office.
"These are serious allegations and they have caused much consternation
in our communities, and rightly so," it added. "The Castro brothers have
misgoverned Cuba for more than half a century putting in place a
tyrannical regime that harasses, beats, jails, exiles and kills anyone
who stands in their way."
"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," the statement added.
The four-paragraph letter was sent to Ward at IKEA North America's
headquarters in Conshohocken, Pa. Spokeswoman Mona Liss said a senior
official at IKEA headquarters in Sweden will meet with the Congress
members "very quickly."
The letter said the six members wanted the "urgent" meeting to discuss
"recent reports alleging that IKEA has knowingly benefitted or sought to
benefit from the use of Cuban prison labor to manufacture its products."
The authoritative German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
reported last week that the furniture and house wares company had
contracted for Cuban prisoners to build 45,000 tables and 4,000 sofa
groupings in September of 1987.
German reporters found the information while reviewing archives of the
former East Germany because officials of its communist government had
facilitated the deal with Cuba. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and East
Germany disappeared the next year.
IKEA already has been investigating reports last fall that some of its
buyers had signed deals to have prisoners in East Germany build
furniture for the company in the 1970s and 1980s.
Liss told El Nuevo Herald in an email last week that IKEA would now
widen that probe to include the Cuba allegations. "We take these
allegations very seriously," she said.
The German newspaper reported that documents found in East German
archives showed that officials of that government had signed a deal with
a Cuban man identified as Lt. Enrique Sánchez, in charge of EMIAT, a
Cuban government enterprise that used prison labor to manufacture furniture.
Liss acknowledged last week that IKEA had agreements of a limited nature
with Cuba but said the firm has not had any long-term business
relationships with any Cuban manufacturer.
"As far as we know, there have only been occasional test purchases of a
limited amount of products from Cuban suppliers in the late '80s, '' she
The German newspaper reported that the first sofas made in Cuba had
quality problems and that East German officials then traveled to the
Caribbean island to try to fix the issues.
It is not known how many of the sofas and tables, if any, were
eventually delivered to IKEA.