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What can we learn from IKEA France?

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger
According to recent news paper reports IKEA France used a private detective agency to spy on staff and check out potential employees. Information was illegally obtained from the police data base. Employees who were active trade unionists or suspected of theft were targeted for investigation. How did he afford a new BMW? Why is the former model employee now organising protests?
IKEA France crossed a line in their use of a private detective agency to dig into the private lives of employees and potential employees their actions were unethical and in obtaining information from the French police’s national data base illegal. The use of a private detective agency is not in it’s self unethical nor is it that uncommon.
As a Director I have authorised their use in trying to identify the the author of an anonymous abusive and racist letter sent to an employee through the internal mail. But I would consider it unethical to attempt to do the same to identify an internal whistleblower. ( I would consider it unethical to make any attempt to identify a whistleblower).
What about using an agency to check out a reference? Most managers have received a vague reference from a candidate’s current manager and wondered why it is not more fulsome. Considering appointing an impressive candidate a manager may wonder why they really left their last job. Alternatively is the reference too good to be true?
What about those impressive qualifications from institutions HR are not familiar with. Of course a manager can reasonably ring up the person providing the reference and seek a fuller picture but most organisations caution managers from saying anything not in the written reference. Off the record comments can result in an unsuccessful candidate seeking to sue their former employer.

If you can’t put much weight on a reference what if your organisation is one of the sensitive industries like the Oil Industry or the Nuclear industry presumably you would be weary of employing someone who was a member of or sympathised with the aims of Green Peace. Like wise those in the cosmetic industry or those who handle their advertising account might want to know if a potential employee was an animal rights activist. I can’t imagine HR would go searching through a candidates social media account but they might engage an agency who would. Does this type of positive vetting go on in some organisations? Undoubtedly. But is it done with the applicants knowledge and permission?

It’s a small step from positive vetting to Black Listing. In the past the construction industry operated such a list maintained by an agency comprising of so called trouble makers but in reality mostly active trade unionists. It would be naive to assume that this was the only industry that operated in this  way or that the practices no longer takes place.
As the French case goes to court with a number of senior managers facing charges now would be a good time for HR to suggest a  review the organisation’s use of Private Detective Agencies.

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