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Businesses Across Germany Spy on Their Workers - The Rule, Not the Exception

Business  (tags: Germany, labor relations, Stern magazine, revelations, Surveillance, monitoring, spying, on workers, Stasi-like techniques, retail chains, Lidl, white-collar corporations, Daimler-Chrysler )

- 4054 days ago -
Reports of workplace espionage've shocked labor unions & disturbed German public since March when Stern mag published exposé on workplace spying at retail chains. Bosses/managers accused of watching workers on toilet & noting break conversations. Now..


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LucyKaleido ScopeEyes (82)
Wednesday April 16, 2008, 10:14 am

This is not the posted article, but one of the original ones that first broke the story, before further investigation revealed that the practice is not limited to the big retail chains :

Discount Chain Accused of Spying on Workers

It's not the first time that the discount supermarket chain Lidl has been accused of maltreating its employees. But observing them on the toilet? Listening in on their private phone calls? An explosive report published this week by a German newsmagazine has triggered an investigation into the retailer.

The European discount supermarket chain Lidl sells itself with the slogan "Where quality is cheaper." And when it comes to its employee practices, it certainly appears to be cheap, if new allegations turn out to be true.

According to a report by the German weekly magazine Stern, Lidl has been spying for months on employees in several of its outlets. The company has allegedly been hiring detectives to investigate workers, both on the job, on cigarette and coffee breaks -- and even on the toilet.

The explosive report triggered a government probe into the allegations on Wednesday. A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry of the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg described the claims as "unparalleled," telling SPIEGEL ONLINE: "The supervisory authority has launched an investigation into possible violations of privacy protection rules." The ministry has jurisdiction because Lidl's corporate headquarters are located in the city of Neckarsulm in that state. The spokesperson said investigations could take several weeks and wanted to make no predictions about their possible outcome or consequences.

The bulk of the reports cited by Stern come from Lidl outlets in the state of Lower Saxony, plus individual ones from the states of Rhineland-Palatinate, Berlin and Schleswig-Holstein. The observation practices were routine, the report alleges: A detective would install between five and 10 miniature cameras in the store, telling the manager it was an anti-theft measure, and then use the technology to observe employees' behavior.

Stern claims to have obtained hundreds of pages of transcripts that document the movements and conversations of employees, for example: "Wednesday, 4:45 p.m.: Although Ms. N. has not accomplished much in the food and reduced wares department, she takes her break right on time. She sits together with Ms. L.; they talk about their wages, bonuses and paid overtime. Ms. N. hopes that her pay has been transferred already because she desperately needs money for this evening (reason = ?)".

The transcripts also get into employees' private lives ("Her circle of friends consists mainly of junkies") and appearances ("Ms. M. has tattoos on both lower arms"). In their tone and detail, the observation logs invite comparison to those of the Stasi, the East German secret police.

Particularly controversial is a report from the Czech Republic where, according to Stern, female employees were allegedly prohibited from going to the bathroom during work hours -- unless they had their period, which they were to indicate outwardly by wearing a headband. While Lidl denies the report, it has yet to issue an injunction on a citizen's group or a newspaper that are publicizing the case widely.

Although Lidl has not denied the existence of the transcripts, Lidl spokesperson Petra Trabert told Stern they were not intended as "employee observation but rather to detect possible misconduct."

Achim Neumann, retail expert at the service employees union Ver.di, told SPIEGEL ONLINE the dimensions of the allegations were "completely new to me." He said his union would provide support to any Lidl employees who sought to take legal action against the retailer and called Lidl's alleged behavior "a mess beyond compare."

According to Ver.di, the observation logs respresent a violation of both data protection laws and human dignity, as it is defined and protected by the constitution.

In 2004, Verdi published "Das Schwarz-Buch Lidl Europa" ("The Black Book on Lidl in Europe"), documenting what it claimed to be the chain's systematic abuse of its employees' rights. An updated version appeared in an English translation in 2006. It contains allegations of breaches of working-time directives, withheld salary payments and threats against union members, as well as spying and eavesdropping on workers.

With 7,000 stores in Germany, Lidl rivals competitor Aldi as Germany's leading discount supermarket. It operates in over 17 countries across Europe and has an annual sales volume of over €43 billion ($68 billion).


LucyKaleido ScopeEyes (82)
Wednesday April 16, 2008, 10:16 am

This discount chain somehow reminds me of Wal-mart...

LucyKaleido ScopeEyes (82)
Wednesday April 16, 2008, 10:20 am

This is the last part of the posted article. Please refrain from vomiting until you get to the last paragraph :

"Surveillance, monitoring and spying on workers are apparently the rule and not the exception" in Germany, writes Stern.

The magazine quotes a workers' council member named Tom Adler who accuses Daimler-Chrysler of quizzing in-house doctors and department heads on workers' medical conditions, their marriage problems, their dying parents and their psychiatric health. The magazine claims these details were saved in writing in the workers' personnel files. The company denied this accusation.

"No sensitive data on our employees has been handed by company doctors to company management," reads an official statement from Daimler. "There has been no violation of data-protection rights."

Detectives on Retainer, and a Cleaning Bill

Nevertheless, over one in three German office computers are spied on electronically, according to a study by Mummert Consulting. And the German Detectives' Association estimates that 60 to 70 percent of its contracts originate from corporations. The most common request among these contracts is to keep tabs on employees. One German surveillance agency called PEMBJO even asks straight out: "Do you need information on workers or other people? In all these and other such cases we gladly give individual advice."

A software package offered by a company called Protectcom in Saarbrücken allows a boss to watch what happens on computers which have it installed -- including a live view of employees' computer screens. The package is called Orvell Monitoring, a direct reference to George Orwell. Stern reports that over 100,000 copies have been sold.

Customers have not been left out of this mania for petty surveillance. Eva Herre walked into a branch of Volksbank with her three-year-old daughter last December, according to Stern, to pull cash from an ATM. Unluckily her daughter had just stepped in a pile of dog dirt. Bank employees scanned back through the closed-circuit TV video, zeroed in on Frau Herre, pulled up her home address through her card details -- and sent her a bill "for cleaning costs," in the amount of €52,96 ($83.00).

RELATED SPIEGEL ONLINE LINKS to the series on spying :
The Lidls of Others: Two More German Chains Caught Spying on Employees (04/03/2008)
Big Brother Allegations: Discount Chain Accused of Spying on Workers (03/26/2008)
Intrusive Surveillance in Germany: Second Retail Chain Accused of Spying on Staff (03/31/2008)

Past Member (0)
Wednesday April 16, 2008, 10:38 am
Lidl and Aldi are in my opinion human rights and every!!! working man / woman's rights. They earn billions on the baks of their human white slaves, with low quality product. Both chains do not have any ethics or scruples. PERSONALLY I do not buy from them.

Past Member (0)
Thursday April 17, 2008, 12:34 am
Am not surprised at all!
My own experience:
At my workplace my (and from my coleques too)private activity on net (meseneger, or visiting sites) was tracked by co called sofware "Watcher". When i doscovered it and protested only, since here such things are not still regulated by law, I was told, that nowhere in the world i could not winn at court, since I was using equipment of company and was using it in private purposes during work time and that company has full right to make surveliance over workers activities. Luckily i did not visit any naughty sites..Care2 mostly! Lol!
Well about toiletes..will check if any cameras are there..
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