There’s no denying that IKEA — Swedish meatball pusher and purveyor of affordable, design-forward home furnishings — has been up to a lot of green good as of late despite the mostly disposable nature of its products. As detailed in the recently released 2010 Sustainability Report, the company has taken on various eco-initiatives, including an aggressive (and early) phase-out of incandescent light bulbs, the installation of solar panels on numerous U.S. stores, and the introduction of the IKEA Product Sustainability Scorecard. But despite all the positive, much-publicized news on the environmental front, not all is well in the land of $40 coffee tables and lingonberry jam.

As reported by Nathaniel Popper for the Los Angeles Times, IKEA’s first stateside factory, opened to much fanfare in 2008 in Danville, Va., is, to put it bluntly, an awful place to work. Unlike IKEA’s seemingly blissful, unionized Swedwood production plants in Europe where workers make $19 an hour at minimum wage and have five weeks of government-mandated paid vacation, the disgruntled employees at Swedwood’s Danville location start at $8 an hour and receive 12 days of vacation, eight of them on dates determined by the company.

But that’s not the worst of it: six black workers have filed discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming that black employees at Swedwood Danville are consistently assigned to overnight shifts in the lowest-paying departments. Additionally, many of the 335 workers have complained of a “frenzied pace,” unpredictable hours, strict disciplinary actions, eliminated raises, mandatory overtime, and required meetings that have discouraged workers from unionizing. Naturally, turnover at the factory is high with an estimated one-third of workers coming from local staffing agencies and receiving even lower wages and no benefits.

Bill Street, a union organizer who tried to organize Danville workers for the machinists union, believes that IKEA is simply exploiting U.S. workers saying that, "it's ironic that IKEA looks on the U.S. and Danville the way that most people in the U.S. look at Mexico.”

Swedwood spokesperson Ingrid Steen simply describes the Danville situation as “sad” while Per-Olaf Sjoo, head of the Swedish union in Swedwood factories, says: “IKEA is a very strong brand and they lean on some kind of good Swedishness in their business profile. That becomes a complication when they act like they do in the United States. For us, it's a huge problem."

Huge problem is right. Head on over to the L.A. Times to read the entire eye-opening story which is big news in IKEA's motherland but not so much here. Do you have any thoughts on what Salon calls "IKEA's Third World outsourcing adventure — in the U.S."?

Via [The Los Angeles Times]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Labor trouble in 'Lack-land'
After receiving high marks for an encouraging sustainability report, IKEA comes under fire for oppressive, non-IKEA-like working conditions at its Swedwood fact