IKEA’s Saudi Arabia catalog erases women; company expresses regret

The Oct. 1 2012 issue of daily Metro fronted with two images from Swedish and Saudi Arabian IKEA catalogue for next year.
The Oct. 1 2012 issue of daily Metro fronted with two images from Swedish and Saudi Arabian IKEA catalogue for next year.
(Henrik Montgomery / AP Photo / Scanpix Sweden)

IKEA removed images of women from the Saudi Arabia version of its catalog, a decision that the furniture giant now says clashes with its values.

Swedish publication Metro posted a comparison of the Saudi Arabian mailer and the Swedish version, showing that women present in the latter were missing from the former.

In the Muslim country, women are not allowed to travel or study without male permission and are expected to avoid driving and to conceal their bodies and hair.


The image of a pajama-clad woman -- shown standing at a bathroom sink along with a young boy, a man and another young child nearby -- is erased in the catalog distributed in the Arab state. Some tableaux feature a co-ed mix of models for the Swedish catalog but no models for the Saudi Arabian copy.

More than 200 million households receive a free IKEA catalog each year, according to Inter IKEA Systems B.V., which oversees the chain’s franchisees. A separate branch, IKEA Group, makes the catalogs.

IKEA Group said in a statement that its values “support the fundamental human rights of all people” and “do not accept any kind of discrimination.” IKEA Saudi Arabia, it said, is run by a franchisee outside the IKEA Group.

“As a producer of the catalog, we regret the current situation,” IKEA Group said. “We should have reacted to the exclusion of women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalog since it does not align with the IKEA Group values.”

The company continued: “We are now reviewing our routines to safeguard a correct content presentation from a values point of view in the different versions of the IKEA Catalogue worldwide.”

In IKEA Group’s annual report for 2011, the company notes that societal changes in the 20th century, including “equal opportunities and revolutionary approaches to ensure the rights and protection of women and children,” has shaped both its products and values.

“We’ve been very fortunate to share experiences and learn from people of many countries, cultures and backgrounds,” according to the report. “We continue to grow and develop with co-workers, customers, suppliers and partners in 41 countries. And everyone can see our Swedish roots -- but they can hear the accent of each of these countries too.”


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