Ikea. Great concept, but in the pursuit of the almighty buck, they have landed in the kind of climate that invites massive boycotts. Their recent expansion into a potentially lucrative market – Saudi Arabia – has resulted in a catalogue where women are airbrushed away. away, as in the above photo. Presto, change, ladies, you no longer exist!
We received two references to this travesty today, the start of a cluster synchro. One came from a woman in Malibu, California, who has bought a lot of Ikea merchandise, and the other email came from a man in Australia who worked for them for 24 years and was recently “rendered redundant” – fired.
A local version of Ikea’s yearly catalogue, published on its Saudi website, shows images that are identical to those in other editions save for one detail: the women are gone. “We are looking into the issue and holding a dialogue with our Saudi franchise holder,” said Ulrika Englesson Sandman, a spokeswoman for Inter IKEA Systems, which owns the Ikea trademark and concept.
When entering a new market the company always takes into account the ability to balance local culture and legislation with its own values, she added.
The removal of women from the pages of the Saudi edition, including a young girl who was pictured studying at her desk, has prompted a strong response from Swedes, who pride themselves on egalitarian policies and a narrow gender gap.
“You can’t remove or airbrush women out of reality. If Saudi Arabia does not allow women to be seen or heard, or to work, they are letting half their intellectual capital go to waste,” Trade Minister Ewa Bjoerling said in a statement. Her sentiment was echoed by Swedish European Union Minister Birgitta Ohlsson, who branded the incident “medieval” on social networking site Twitter.
Saudi Arabia applies strict rules of gender segregation, banning women from driving and requiring them to have permission from a male guardian before travelling or receiving medical care. Ikea’s Saudi franchise partner currently operates three stores in the country, where it has seen ‘double digit’ yearly growth over the past five years, according to its webs.
Our Aussie friend was going to do a post about this, but he figured that since he had an axe to grind, it might not mean much. But the bottom line is how can a country like Sweden do business with a country like Saudi Arabia, where women are rendered completely irrelevant? Saudi women can’t even leave their homes without the permission and accompaniment of a male relative. They must cover themselves completely. Why? Is the female body oh so tempting to Saudi men that it might incite unprecedented lust? Might it lead to the collapse of marriages?
I’ve never understood Saudi Arabia, never understood their attitude toward women, have never understood why these women don’t rise up in some huge rebellion and take this ridiculous monarchy down. But I do know one thing: I will never buy anything made by IKEA, just as I will never step foot inside a Walmart.
These companies are soulless scourges, after profit at any price, sacrificing the very individuals who do the shopping. I mean, seriously? You airbrush women out of the catalogue and really think they are going to buy your products? How about keeping them in your catalogue? Maybe it would help to change hearts and minds, IKEA. Maybe you could sweep into this market as agents of CHANGE rather than business as usual.