Germany: Lidl spies workers and then apologizes

German discount grocery chain Lidl, that has been accused of systematically spying on its staff, apologized to employees in newspaper ads Monday, but insisted the allegations were overblown.

“We regret it profoundly and apologize explicitly if co-workers feel discredited and personally hurt by the described procedures,” the Lidl supermarket chain said in half-page ads published in several daily newspapers.

Last week, German news magazine Stern reported that Lidl had hired detectives who installed surveillance cameras to monitor the staff’s work performance, and even to find out how often they used the restrooms and whether they had affairs with co-workers.

The report prompted some politicians and data protection agencies to demand stricter labor protection laws for supermarket personnel in Germany.

Despite the apology, the chain rejected Stern’s accusations and said “the impression that Lidl had systematically ‘spied’ on its workers, in no way conforms with the company’s fair dealings” with them.

Lidl also justified the use of detectives, saying they were hired to obtain information that would allow the company to cut down on shoplifting. It said the resulting loss of stock amounts to €80 million (US$126.5 million) annually.

Lidl conceded that “in individual cases, extra and in some cases personal information on employees was recorded by the detective agencies.” But, it added: “we did not want that.”

Lidl said that “it has learned from the incidents” and would in the future concentrate on working with its employees to combat theft.

Senior Lidl manager Juergen Kisseberth said later Monday that detectives were deployed in 219 of Lidl’s 2,900 branches across Germany.

Kisseberth said employees affected would be given the chance to view the records.

“The employees will be presented those passages that concern them,” Kisseberth said. “Only this way will employees in the end have clarity on what information was recorded.”

Lidl is one of the biggest discount grocery chains in Germany and says it has 48,000 employees.

Unions have criticized Lidl over the spying allegations, saying the alleged surveillance put all employees under general suspicion of shoplifting. (AP)

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