More than 150 German companies, including 10 of the country's leading supermarket chains, were yesterday accused of resorting to "Stasi methods" to spy on their staff and collect intimate details about their private lives with hidden cameras, microphones and computer software.
The allegations were made by Germany's Stern magazine which said it had collected page-long "intelligence" reports about staff at stores and supermarkets throughout the country, compiled by detectives at the behest of senior management.
The stores included discount outlets such as Aldi, Plus, Penny and Edeka. Detectives, who were ostensibly engaged to catch shoplifters, recorded details of employees' illnesses, drinking habits, love affairs and marriage partners, as well as their working lives.
One typical report, written by a detective working at a branch of the Penny supermarket chain near the west German city of Aachen, described a woman working at the outlet's check-out as follows: "Mrs Z is a jack of all trades according to her record. She worked as a secretary for the KGB. She is married for the second time to a man who is 11 years her junior and who is the son of her former class teacher. He has a badly slipped disc."
Another report from an Edeka supermarket said: "Mrs K and her children are having a row. Mrs K rejects her children because one of them has married a black." Another concluded: "Mr W will wash away his frustration with a bottle of Scotch tonight. As usual." Some of the reports, the most recent of which date from last year, included CCTV pictures of employees in their underwear in staff changing rooms.
Stern said the detectives resorted to methods used by former Communist East Germany's Stasi secret police: cameras and microphones were installed in fire alarms and in one case, in a packet of rice pudding on a supermarket shelf.
"Surveillance, control and spying on staff appears to be the rule rather than the exception," Stern concluded yesterday.
Most of the supermarket chains denied they had engaged detectives for the purpose of staff surveillance. However, the Penny discount chain admitted detectives were also permitted to watch staff but only to clear up cases of theft.