The Dark Truth About Working At Lidl

In March 2008, the German magazine Stern published an exposé accusing grocery store Lidl of secretly inserting cameras into their stores throughout Germany and the Czech Republic to watch their workers (via The Guardian). That same year, Deutsche Welle reported that Lidl executives admitted to installing cameras and hiring private detectives to crack down on shoplifting customers. The store denied all charges of spying on their employees. "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," company director Juergen Kissebert said in a statement to Deutsche Welle.

This statement was made in the face of hundreds of pages detailing when workers used the restroom, what phone calls they made, and even criticizing tattoos workers had. One worker was recorded hoping for an early payment because they needed the money, to which a detective wrote "For what?" 

The outcry was swift, with The Guardian noting that human rights groups and trade unions had sworn to take the case against Lidl. But in April, as German magazine Der Spiegel reported, Lidl decided to reinstall the cameras, as the purpose of them was to dissuade misconduct. However, they would request the consent of their employees and allow them to inspect any records made by Lidl. How they would receive consent from a workforce previously spied upon without any coercion wasn't described. 

In the end, Lidl was fined for 1.5 million euros, which Deutsche Welle converted as $2 million.

Such probing was an established practice

There, the spying controversy at Lidl seemed to have ended. That is until April 2009, when more news, as shared by The Irish Times, emerged from a dumpster. Amongst the detailed notes kept by the Lidl spies lay extensive medical records. These included details for therapy sessions and artificial insemination. 

In retrospect, this shouldn't be too surprising. As touched upon in a 2007 opinion piece for The Guardian, a book titled "Das Schwarz-Buch Lidl Europa," or "The Black Book on Lidl in Europe," was published in 2004 that detailed terrible work conditions in 23 European countries, including cameras placed to spy on workers, extensive notes taken on their employees, and hours that broke the European labor directive to allow for at least an eleven hour break between shifts. Another issue was the company's preference for a "pregnancy-free zone," which puts the note of one employee's artificial insemination in an even worse light.

So, when the outcry sounded in 2008, it came late but welcome. However, whether Lidl has changed its practices or merely hidden them better is a question that such broken trust will always ask.