STOCKHOLM - IKEA, the world's biggest furniture retailer, has
come under heavy criticism in its home market Sweden after it airbrushed women
out of its latest catalogue in Saudi Arabia, raising questions about its
policies towards gender equality.
IKEA, famous for budget furniture in
self-build flat packs and huge stores, said it regretted removing the women from
pictures in the annual booklet which otherwise looks roughly the same in all its
The women removed from pictures in the catalogue for the
conservative Islamic kingdom included one in pyjamas in front of a bathroom
mirror and one of IKEA's female designers.
"It is not the local
franchisee that has requested the retouch of the discussed pictures," IKEA
franchisor Inter IKEA Group B.V. said in a statement late on Monday. "We will
naturally review our routines and working process, to ensure that this will not
happen again." Currently, franchises have the final say on the production of the
catalogues, including pictures, Inter IKEA Systems spokeswoman Ulrika Englesson
Swedish Gender Equality Minister Nyamko Sabuni criticized
the airbrushing, saying that companies needed to stick to their principles also
"And if there is any country in the world that needs to know
IKEA's values, it is Saudi Arabia. Therefore it is a pity that it is there they
choose to abandon part of their values, in this case equality," she told news
Women in Saudi Arabia are barred from driving and must have
the consent of a male "guardian" to travel abroad, work or have some types of
Magazines or other publications featuring photographs
of women in skimpy clothing are censored and restaurants are segregated into
sections for single men and for families with women to avoid gender
Sweden's European Union Minister Birgitta Ohlsson on Twitter
called the move "medieval", while European Union Minister Ewa Bjorling noted
that women cannot be airbrushed out of reality.
"If Saudi Arabia doesn't
allow women to be seen, heard or to work, they lose out on half of their
intellectual capital. This shows they still have a long way to go to reach
equality between women and men in Saudi Arabia," she said in an
IKEA has airbrushed women out of several Saudi catalogues since
its first store opening there in the 1980s, a spokeswoman at IKEA Group, which
produces the catalogues on behalf of Inter IKEA Systems, said.
statement, IKEA Group said excluding women from the Saudi version of the catalogue was not in line with its values. IKEA on its websites says women
change the world and that taking responsibility for people is a pre-requisite
for doing good business.
"I simply think it is silly. We exist in a
society with women and men. You can't just remove women," Sara Altawil, an IKEA
shopper in Sweden, told commercial broadcaster TV4. "I'm Arab, I'm Muslim but I
simply think women exist in society and should take part." Saudi King Abdullah
has made limited moves to make it easier for women to work and last year said
that they would be allowed to vote and run for office in all future municipal
elections, the only public polls held in the monarchy.
He also said women
would be appointed to the Shoura Council, which advises the government on
IKEA franchisee Al Sulaiman, which runs the three IKEA stores in
in Saudi Arabia, was not immediately available for comment.
held IKEA has 338 stores around the world, of which 40 are run by external