BERLIN - Swedish furniture giant Ikea expressed regret Friday that it benefited from the use of forced prison labor by some of its suppliers in communist East Germany more than two decades ago. The company released an independent report showing that East German prisoners, among them many political dissidents, were involved in the manufacture of goods that were supplied to Ikea 25 to 30 years ago. The report concluded that Ikea managers were aware of the possibility that prisoners would be used in the manufacture of its products and took some measures to prevent this, but they were insufficient. "We deeply regret that this could happen," said Jeanette Skjelmose, an Ikea manager.
Sippican Cottage today released a statement expressing remorse for the use of forced labor in his factory, and promised to do better in the future.
"I deeply regret forcing the sole employee of Sippican Cottage to work up to sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, for no paycheck, for the last eight years," said Mr. Cottage, the sole employee of Sippican Cottage, "and I have no idea what I was thinking not taking a vacation since 1998, either; I should be ashamed of myself."
Mr. Cottage said the near-slave conditions he kept himself in seemed necessary at the time, but he realizes in hindsight he should have just given a state senator an envelope full of twenties and gotten a block grant or something, and been at the pub at noon on Friday like everyone else. He admits he was just being unreasonable. "I kept trying to pay my property tax bill in full, instead of giving an easement to the conservation committee for the four acres of swamp in the back to get an abatement, and it just sort of spiraled from there. Pretty soon I was forcing the only employee I've got to work for four hours on Christmas Day to make enough to pay the excise tax on my rattletrap truck before the interest started piling up like last year. Jeez, I'm a bastard."
Mr. Cottage describes a slippery slope confronted by many businessmen: when does the desire for profit trump simple human decency? For Mr. Cottage, the answer was simple. "You'd think I'd have learned after my wife had the first kid, but somehow or another your mind gets fuzzy from listening to the dull bandsaw blade screeching in a case-hardened piece of wood all day, and you sorta drift off to the dark side a little at a time. Like an idiot you think that once a kid's big enough, you won't need four hundred dollars a week for Enfamil and diapers, and maybe you can let the only employee sleep until after sunrise on Saturday once in a while. But no; then the little bastards start eating real food, like, twice a day or something, and it's right back to Solzhinitzyn-grade time management in the shop."
Further digging reveals Mr. Cottage's seemingly contrite attitude towards his former transgressions masks an even darker secret. Not only did he make his only employee work in near darkness in a nasty windowless basement for almost five years straight without a break, it turns out that the employee was disabled as well, a fact that Mr. Cottage hid from both the authorities that could have helped, and from his family as well.
"OK, you got me. My only employee is north of fifty now, has had a bad back since the 1970s, Meniere's Syndrome, bad eyesight, tinnitus that sounds like four guys with Tourette's throwing junk cars down a mineshaft, a terrible inflammation of his plantar fascia that's morphing into arthritis, a bad knee from a car accident thirty years ago, and even though he's allergic to bee stings, I made him go up on the roof and reshingle it last summer. But in my defense, none of that stuff seemed like much, compared to all the really disabled people I see getting help for their ailments. Until you've looked into the eyes of someone that's prone to panic attacks, or that's had someone look at them funny at work once, or needs a miniature service horse to shop at Whole Foods, you don't know how lucky you are. I told him, er, me, to suck it up and get back to the table saw."
Although he's promised to do better, Mr. Cottage says he -- and his Schedule C --can't help thinking he's leaving money on the table if he starts taking his foot off the face of the fellow in the shop.
"I mean, I know guys that are forced to limp during an entire round of golf in case an insurance adjuster is surveilling them at the course. I really didn't think I'd have the kind of mental toughness to persevere under that kind of tyranny. Imagine trying to remember which foot to limp with all the time! So I admit it; I just took the easy way out, and just yelled at the help to work harder. Luckily the saws drown out the yelling so my wife doesn't hear me upstairs. I don't want her thinking I'm crazy or anything."