Lorry drivers moving goods in Western Europe for Ikea and other retailers are living out of their cabs for months at a time, a BBC investigation has found.
Some drivers – brought over from poorer countries by lorry firms based in Eastern Europe – say their salary is less than three pounds an hour.
They say they cannot afford to live in the countries where they work. One said he felt “like a prisoner” in his cab.
Ikea said it was “saddened by the testimonies” of the drivers.
The drivers the BBC spoke to were employed by haulage companies based in Eastern Europe, which are paid to transport Ikea goods.
‘Road accidents possible’
Romanian driver Emilian spends up to four months at a time sleeping, eating and washing in his truck.
He moves goods for Ikea around Western Europe, and had been in Denmark most recently.
He says the salary he takes home is a monthly average of 477 euros (£420).
A Danish driver can expect to take home an average of 2,200 euros (£1,900) a month in salary.
EU rules state that a driver posted temporarily away from home should be ”guaranteed” the host nation’s ”minimum rates of pay” and conditions. But companies can exploit loopholes in the law.
Emilian is employed by a Slovakian subsidiary of Norwegian trucking company Bring, and is being paid as if his place of work is Slovakia – even though he never works there.
He shows us where he sleeps – a sleeping bag in the back of his cab.
According to EU law, drivers must take 45 hours weekly rest away from their cabs, but governments have been slow to enforce it.
He says he cannot afford to sleep anywhere else – he receives around 45 euros (£40) a day in expenses, which is meant to cover all hotel bills and meals.
During the working week, Emilian cooks and eats at the roadside. He says conditions have left him feeling “like a prisoner, like a bird in the cage”.
“It’s not good for drivers, it’s not safe for other people on the road… it is possible to [cause an] accident,” he says.
Asked if he has a message for Ikea, he says: “Come and live with me for one week. Eat what I eat. See what is happening in reality with our lives.”
After a few months on the road he will board a minibus back to Slovakia.
His Slovakian employer, Bring, says Emilian is responsible for taking his rest breaks, and can return home whenever he likes.
No toilet or running water
Emilian is not alone. We have seen the contracts of drivers working for some of Ikea’s biggest contractors – each paid low Eastern European wages while working for months at a time in Western Europe.
It is clear this way of treating drivers is widespread. It is not just within the Ikea supply chain, but also in those of several other big, household names.
In Dortmund, Germany – outside the biggest Ikea distribution centre in the world – truck drivers are drying their clothes. One is making his mash potato on a fuel tank.
There is no toilet, no running water.
Drivers from Moldova say they receive an average monthly salary of 150 euros (£130) from their employer.
Legal action is now being taken against some of Ikea’s contractors.
In the Netherlands last month, a court ruled that Brinkman – which delivers Ikea flowers to the UK and Scandinavia – was breaking the law.
The court found that drivers’ pay was “not consistent” with Dutch wages law.
The judge described conditions for drivers as an “inhumane state of affairs”, and contrary to EU law.
Edwin Atema, of trade union FNV, says he believes Ikea must have known of the conditions in which drivers are living.
“The Ukrainian, Moldovan, Polish guys remove the furniture from Ikea, they touch the furniture,” he says.
“Ikea is the economic employer of all these workers here. They have so much power. Ikea has the tool in hand to change the business model with an eye blink.”
One union, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), met Ikea several times last year to discuss the issue – but talks ended in November.
Ikea said it takes what drivers have told the BBC “very seriously” and are “saddened by the testimonies”.
It said it puts ”strict demands” on its suppliers concerning wages, working conditions and following applicable legislation, and audits them regularly to check compliance.
‘Far more foreign lorries’
Increasing numbers of foreign haulage companies are now moving goods in Britain.
They are working for hundreds of different companies, including Ikea.
At a lorry stop in Immingham, Lincolnshire, one anonymous Polish driver explains: “We spend a lot of time living in lay-bys where there are no toilets, no showers, no facilities.
“The work is paid a bit better than what I would get in Poland, but this life is not good. I do it for my family.”
British haulage companies are nervous that they will be undercut by companies that could be breaking the law.
Jack Semple, from the Road Haulage Association, says: “We are seeing far more foreign lorries that are frankly less compliant with drivers’ hours and road-worthiness regulations.
“There is a road safety risk, and the Treasury is losing a fortune in tax revenue.
“They have to get a grip on this because big, well-known UK retailers and other companies are making increasing use of these firms because they don’t cost very much.”