On Monday, Swedish furniture company IKEA expressed regret at the removal of female photos from their catalogs sent to Saudi Arabia. According to the Wall Street Journal’s Ann Molin, the action drew criticism from Swedish government officials, and raised questions on whether some IKEA franchises violate values that most of the corporate stores consent to.
IKEA’s catalog is sent worldwide and in 2012, the company will publish 200 million copies through 62 unique versions. The majority of the catalog is the same in most markets, but the company does change images to appeal to fashion tastes in local markets; it has also makes adjustments to respect cultural standards.
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So what’s difference between the Saudia Arabian version in question, as compared to the standard version?
The Wall Street Journal reported that numerous photographs of women are missing from the Saudi Arabian version. Aside from that, the photos are identical to other catalogs.
The difference had first been reported by Stockholm’s Metro newspaper.
Saudi Arabia has long been criticized in the treatment of its women. It is a repressive country toward them, as they cannot travel, study, or work, without permission from male guardians. Saudi Arabian women also can’t drive cars.
IKEA Group spokeswoman, Ylva Magnusson, said via the Wall Street Journal, “As a producer of the catalog, we regret the current situation. We should have reacted and realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalog is in conflict with the IKEA Group values.”
Magnusson added that IKEA is reviewing its different catalog versions and that it does consider anti-discrimination and human-rights policies.
She added, “We encourage fair treatment and equal employment opportunities, without regard to race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, age, or sexual orientation.”
IKEA has tried to stay out of the political spotlight, but given the size of is business and global reach, it’s difficult to avoid.
Swedish trade minister Ewa Bjorling said to the Wall Street Journal in an email,”You cannot remove or retouch women out of reality. If women aren’t allowed to be seen or work, then Saudi Arabia is losing half of its intellectual capital.”
IKEA uses its catalog as its primary marketing tool. The company has changed many of its catalog’s pages in recent years, to include images with digital design. This allows for the altering of photos to meet tastes for local markets.
For the questionable Saudi catalog, a woman has disappeared from a picture, left to include only a father and his sons, whereas the catalog’s standard version includes a woman in pajamas, with a young boy and a man in the room.
Additional photos have excluded women for the Saudi Arabian audience.
But for IKEA, the Saudi Arabian controversy isn’t the first one for the catalog company.
Almost two weeks ago, the company deleted a photo from its Russian corporate Web page. It had a picture of four young people dressed in balaclavas; it could have been perceived as support for three jailed band members of the Russian group Pussy Riot, reported the Wall Street Journal.