Ikea Factory Workers Allege Poor Treatment

Amid allegations of racial discrimination, busts on union organizing, low wages and poor working conditions at an Ikea plant in the U.S., Swedish furniture giant Ikea is in considerable hot water. These sorts of claims against multinational corporations are nothing new in a post-NAFTA world; what’s striking, though, are the players involved.

In 2008, Swedwood, Ikea’s manufacturing subsidiary, opened its first U.S. factory in Danville, Virginia. After the decades-long decline of the region’s textile industry, workers desperately needed the jobs. Two years earlier, an Indian firm had bought out a large textile mill and shipped hundreds of jobs overseas.

It’s an all too familiar story in the United State’s industrial core. Manufacturers, seeing the far lower wages and poorer worker protections in developing nations, pack up their American factory and, in turn, desecrate Rust Belt economies.

This time around, though, Ikea was opening a factory in a struggling blue collar town. The reasoning behind opening a factory in Danville wasn’t based on corporate goodwill, however. Rather, as Nathaniel Popper reported in the Los Angeles Times, it was based on the same free trade economic policies that ravaged Danville the first time around.

In other words, as Bill Street, a union organizer who attempted to organize the factory workers, said in Popper’s report: “…Ikea looks on the U.S. and Danville the way that most people in the U.S. look at Mexico.”

Indeed, Popper notes, factory workers in Ikea’s home country of Sweden:

Enjoy a minimum wage of about $19 an hour and a government-  mandated five weeks of paid vacation. Full-time employees in Danville start at $8 an hour with 12 vacation days — eight of them on dates determined by the company.”

 What’s more, while their Swedish counterparts enjoy the benefits of a union, American Ikea factory managers hired on a notoriously anti-union law firm and required workers to attend anti-union meetings.

Certainly, if Ikea workers in Danville were permitted to unionize, and the majority of them want to, a lot of the atrocious working conditions are likely to cease. But what’s to stop Ikea from simply closing shop and moving on? Odds are good that Ikea, like the textile industry before it, will turn its back on Danville.

Take Action: Sign the Care2 petition to let Ikea workers unionize.

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Photo credit: istock


Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Katheleen Sauret
kathleen Sauret6 years ago

I am not sure why IKEA would be expected to treat their employees in the States the same as in Sweden. The USA has laws, as well as, Sweden. You can't compare the 2 nor blame IKEA. Almost all employed persons are in a Union in Sweden unlike the States. This is not up to IKEA to change the system in the States. I am an American living in Sweden. Tax rate is about 30%, but then again we get so many benefits that aren't available in the States. Stop complaining about IKEA and start complaining to your government officials.

Elisa and Susan Petersen
Susan Petersen6 years ago

@Annmari Lundin:
Thank you for proving my point: the American health care system STINKS! When our family gets sick we’re going to Denmark were having cancer isn’t a major cause of bankruptcy, unemployment due to bad credit, and homelessness. Thank you correcting my spelling too.

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin6 years ago

As for IKEA, workers at their warehouses are not so impressed by the policies. Union may be legal and easy accessible, but IKEA is known in Sweden to discourage employees to join unions, to deny legal unions to form locals and to resist lawbinding meetings with unions as long as they can before getting sued in court.
IKEA is also known to use dubious contractors in third world countries to supply the cheap goods they sell. Several programs on TV have revealed child labor, locked fire doors, sexual harassment, tied up girls working 14-16 hours per day. Whatever behaviour code IKEA confesses to abide by, there's no way for them to make sure it's valid.
My recommendation is to shop at local stores that have higher quality goods and produces in the region of where you live, instead of buying cheap at IKEA.

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin6 years ago

Sue T. : An answer to you and Elisa and Susan P,: A correction for you!
Sweden - that is how it is spelled correctly - has socialized medicine. This means that in a year the maximum anyone pays for medicine is $300 and for a doctor's visits $150. After you've reached the maximum, whatever is left of the 12 month period is free of charge.
The taxes aren't HUGE. A worker pays about22- 25% in income tax.That include local and federal taxes. Above that, there are sales taxes everyone has to pay. Travels, books, newspaers, etc has a 6% tax, food in a store 12% and building material, clothes, electronics, etc has 25%. Despite these taxes, the price of food, clothes, electronics, etc, are quite low.
A majority of Swedes prefer this system and have no longing for the American insurance and HMO system.

Elisa and Susan P.
Susan Petersen6 years ago

We always used to love going to Ikea. Another pleasure ruined! In answer to Sue T's question: the Sweedish, like most of Europe, have socialized medicine so their tax rate is HUGE!

Sue T.
Susan T6 years ago

What is the tax rate in Sweden for people who actually have a job?

Fadia C.
Fadia C7 years ago


Carol Janchenko
Carol Janchenko7 years ago

#2,172 .... thank you for bringing this to everyone's attention.

Loo Samantha
Loo sam7 years ago