Lidl haunted by ghosts of the Gestapo amid accusations of spying

Last updated at 09:16 27 March 2008

Germany is being haunted by memories of the Stasi and the Gestapo after accusations that discount chain store Lidl used detectives and cameras to spy on thousands of workers.

The probe follows a report in the prominent German magazine Stern that the popular supermarket had compiled a report stretching to several hundred pages which recorded everything from employees' toilet breaks to their suspected love-affairs.

Lidl, which has a network of about 2,700 stores across Germany as well as retail outlets in almost every European country, denied it was spying on its employees.

"The relevant supervisory authority is heading an investigation into data protection rights," a spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry of the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said yesterday.

"The facts of the case must be cleared up," she added.

But in a country haunted by memories of spying both by Hitler's Gestapo and communist East Germany's Stasi secret police, the allegations have attracted wide media attention.

The report also assessed whether some employees were competent at their job and criticised some workers for being "naive and introverted", said Stern.

Hidden cameras gathered the information, along with detectives who recorded their findings, said Stern which noted that staff were unaware they were under surveillance and had been told the cameras were installed to catch thieves.

Lidl acknowledged it had used cameras and detectives - but insisted they were not to watch its workers.

"The idea that we would 'spy' on our employees does not at all comply with our leadership principles and the fair treatment of our workers," said company director Juergen Kissebert in a statement.

But union representatives were outraged.

"The report reaches far into workers' private lives," Verdi services union representative Achim Neumann told Reuters Television.

"These are measures I, for example, have only ever seen in totalitarian states. The way people's dignity has been trampled on is unparalleled in our society."

The state ministry is taking action because Lidl's headquarters are located in Baden-Wuerttemberg.

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