FURNITURE giant Ikea paid for secret police files to spy on "complaining" customers and "suspicious" staff at stores in France, it was claimed on Wednesday.
The Swedish company paid private security firms to carry out checks on criminal records and links to political groups on more than 200 people, it is alleged.
Customers involved in legal action with Ikea and employees highlighted as "suspicious" were all targeted in the scandal which began in 2003, it was reported on Wednesday.
France's Canard Enchaine newspaper said it had uncovered emails showing bosses paid £70 each for the reports taken from a national French police database.
The paper said: "Questions were asked about more than 200 people, including requests for criminal records, vehicle registration checks and affiliations with political organisations.
"IKEA's head of security authorised payments of 80 euros for each check carried out.
"The information was then used in deciding whether to fire certain staff members or provide intelligence on customers involved in legal disputes with them."
Ten IKEA employees were now planning to take legal action against the company for illegal use of personal data.
The offence is punishable with a £270,000 fine and up to five years in prison, the paper said.
It is not the first time the company has been criticised over its security methods.
A 2010 book called The Truth About IKEA claimed the company was "racist and nepotistic" and said its surveillance methods on staff were "worthy of the Stasi".
An Ikea spokesman in France said of the latest allegations: "We disapprove in the strongest possible way of all these kinds of illegal practices which are an affront to important values such as respect for a person's private life.
"We intend to carry out a full investigation to find out what if anything has been taking place.
"But we stress that our own investigation in no way amounts to any kind of admission that these practices have been carried out."