Ikea to women: we 'regret' airbrushing you out of Saudi catalog

The Swedish flatpack furniture company Ikea says it "regrets" that images of women went missing from the Saudi version of its mail-order catalog. Women are visible in the version of these same images in the English-language Ikea catalog. "Excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalogue is in conflict with the Ikea Group values," said a spokesbot this week. And, check it out: they're also PUTTING SOCKS ON PEOPLE! (HT: Antinous + Maciej Ostaszewski)


  1. “We regret getting caught and portrayed negatively in the media for whatever it was you people are mad about.”

    1. Ikea would like to thank you for bringing Ikea to the attention of more people by suggesting that Ikea is involved in some sort of controversy.  Also Ikea Ikea Ikea Ikea Ikea.

  2. “We regret the fact that people get up in arms because we are attempting to do business in countries with different cultural rules, regardless of the fact that other countries don’t like these rules.”

     We can all agree that the country is wrong for oppressing women. That doesn’t mean that we can jump on Ikea because they were trying to not offend said country.

    Take a major swing in the other direction: it’s not like they were using images of Muhammad showing off their wares. Would you defend that? Would you be offended? Would they?

     This was a failed attempt to be inoffensive to a culture you want to do business with.
     Or rather, It didn’t fail there. It was seen here and everyone in the English speaking world, who get to enjoy many more freedoms and rights got to exercise their freedom and right to get upset about it.

    Go after Saudi Arabia, (And take note that it’s King is trying to do something about the rights of women, its at the bottom of that article. cross your fingers folks)

    1. I think the problem is that Ikea is choosing dollars (Riyals) over oppression.

      Similar concerns were over Google allowing censorship in China, or even more atrocious are the foreign companies doing business with Germany during WWII.

      “Go after Saudi Arabia” Why are you expecting the citizens of the “free” world to pressure Saudi Arabia, but not its corporations? 

      Side note… do you have a Romney sign in the front yard of your mansion? lol! jk

      1. And I’ll bet you picket at Wal-Mart while also being Anti-Union. How does it feel to have someone assume things about you?

        Me, I’m an interesting mix of left and right, but Romney is the biggest red flag i have seen since Palin, further evidence that the republican party is loosing its marbles (or just refusing to take this seriously at all.)

        I’d vote for Obama every day of the week and twice on Sundays (I’ve got nothing else to do on Sundays.)

         Frankly, joking or not, my politics should have no bearing on the fact that people are whining and complaining about Ikea’s actions when the focus here should be on Saudi Arabia’s actions. Joking or not, I’m insulted.

        Continuing this doesn’t fix anything, and makes the struggle for women in Saudi Arabia look trivial or comical.

        You cannot vilify a company for doing what they can to attract customers. You can vilify a country for being evil.

        Look at it this way: Ikea didn’t give money to anti-gay organizations in the USA. There’s something to be outraged about.

        (Updating the post with pictures since I first read it honestly makes this even more comical. Its funny. Haha. now you’ve turned a serious human rights issue into a photoshop joke.)

        To everyone that’s replied: Yes, they handled it poorly. Now let that be something to spark more debate, contact someone in your government, make this into a big thing about Saudi Arabia, pressure the UN to pressure them. But lay off Ikea.

        Heck, it wasn’t even the main company, the Saudi Arabia branch is a franchisee that might have just done it without consulting the people upstairs.

        Sheesh, I don’t even like their furniture.

        1. I personally like their furniture – it’s pretty practical and usually stronger and more versatile than comparably priced stuff that’s available to me. I just wish we could get back to buying furniture and eating sandwiches without having to research the companies’ opinions on different political topics, let alone having them forced down our throats.

          (BTW, I’m not denying that choosing where we spend our money is a complex topic or that you may have actual objections to IKEA’s aesthetic, I just hear a lot of ‘Product X is rubbish because the company has a poor policy on Y’)

          1. I just wish we could get back to buying furniture and eating sandwiches without having to research the companies’ opinions on different political topics…

            Lots of people do that. It’s called skating on privilege.

      1.  You know, you’re right. Or Re-shoot with Saudi women dressed in the cultural garb. I’d really be interested to see what people of all cultures in a stock Ikea catalog. It’s a worldwide company, why not have a worldwide selection of customers enjoying their products?

         would have solved everything, just leave out the free world’s section when you send it to places like that “Nope, no oogling American women’s faces, this aint the Sear’s bra and panties sale!”

    2.  Hey, Muhammad showing off Ikea furniture would be a mayor blast off in sales (even maybe literal).

    3. We can absolutely blame IKEA for not living up to the very standards that they themselves claim to uphold.

      There are ways IKEA could have handled the situation without actively participating (therefore condoning) in the diminishing of women. An obvious one would have been to show only rooms and furniture without people. That would technically have been compliant with values of gender equality while avoiding ‘offending’ the Saudi market.

      The fact that they so readily resorted to adopt whatever practice of apartheid without question is sobering for bigger reasons than IKEA fucking up: It shows how fickle and shallow notions of human- especially women’s- rights truly are to this day. These principles aren’t deeply ingrained enough yet, even in the developed world, to ensure that they wouldn’t be threatened by a few mere business decisions. The majority of women in the world still have a very long, rough wait ahead of them. Meanwhile, women in the so-called developed world cannot take these rights and these values for granted.

      1. Well, it’s probably a more reasonable business decision to just not be in Saudi Arabia than to shoot a different catalog with no people in it. I guess they could have photoshopped EVERYONE out, but I’m surprised that S.A. generates enough revenue to make this worthwhile.

        1. You’re surprised S.A. generates enough revenue? Man, there are some very very rich people there. They can afford better than IKEA furniture, Toy watches, all kinds of crazy stuff. And they LOVE buying it too.

      2. No, you can’t. A corporation does not have standards, or principles, or morals, or ethics. It’s there to return value to its shareholders, and if it were legal to grind up kittens and babies and you could make money from that, they would.

        As others have suggested, if you want to be mad, be mad at Saudi culture.

        1. No, you can’t. A corporation does not have standards, or principles, or morals, or ethics.

          Oh yeah? I see a lot of principles and standards here:




          If a company goes out of its way to shine sunlight up my ass, the least I’m going to do is hold them to their word. Standards DO exist. Even corporations aren’t supposed to misrepresent their products or ethos (even though most do) just to make a sale.

          BTW, I am already angry at Saudi Arabia, but that’s completely beside the point: I fail to remember a single assurance from Saudi Arabia that they would treat their citizens as human beings. IKEA on the other hand (see links above)…

          1. Anything a public company says that isn’t “we will do anything we legally can to return value to our shareholders” is a lie. The links and their content is meaningless, Seniko – you understand that they’re written by an ad agency, right? The company holds no values other than its primary fiduciary duty.

            Don’t get me wrong – I hate that. It’s inhuman. Capitalism sucks. But for heaven’s sake, whatever you do don’t delude yourself that promises of good behaviour count for anything in capitalism or politics.

            I refuse to hate the corporations. I hate the system that makes them all fundamentally the same.

          2. The company holds no values other than its primary fiduciary duty.

            Why should they do otherwise when they have people like you to act as apologists for them?

          3. I am not daft, Mantissa. I run a small business myself.

            I believe that a large part of the system that allows corporations to be completely inhuman is the public, along with the people who are supposed to represent them, giving up on holding them accountable.

            Being mad at some foreign countries for the hypocrisy and dishonesty of our OWN business system is not something I’m comfortable doing. I have enough reasons to resent SA without blaming them for the ills of our runaway capitalist system. I can’t in good faith expect Saudi Arabia to utterly change their system while we stare idly at our own messes.

  3. I don’t like to defend them, but… in their defense this may have been a decision from a low to middle manager and carried out by a single person.  Chances of it being a high-level decision are probably low.

    Could be wrong, but devils advocate and all that.

    1. I don’t think an entire catalog’s worth of disappearing/airbrushing would be decided by any one person.

          1. Having been a designer in a few large companies, I can assure you that the cost of production for a run of catalogues is no where near significant enough to guarantee that anyone with any real power would have seen it. The original catalogue, its shoot and design, was probably signed off by someone pretty high up. Probably.

            I can’t speak for Ikea, but there’s no standard procedure for pushing content out the door. In some companies the director will want to see an email before it’s sent out, others you’ll barely get a head of department signing off a TV ad. You may have had experience, like myself – maybe you’ve worked with more of the former than the latter.

            As I say, I could be wrong – but without internal insight nobody knows.

          2. OK. So it turns out that the cost is low to the design people and high to the marketing and business folks, because this would presumably have been a non-budgeted alteration. In my experience (from the business, not the creative side) those are ALWAYS questioned.

          3. Well it’s all pretty relative. In reality if 1 person did sign this off/request it then I would expect it to be the head (or equivalent) of marketing – so I’m with you there, but that could potentially be it – I’ve seen worse.

            All I’m saying is that I wouldn’t like to have a firm opinion either way without knowing more about their process and structure – I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be annoyed by this – it’s just hard to know exactly where to place the blame.

            As it transpires (further down) it was actually an offshoot/franchise of IKEA that produced the catalogue. To be honest I’m now even more inclined to believe that this wasn’t a company level decision – probably just pushed back through marketing or whoever deals with the catalogues, signed off with a disinterested ‘Works for me’ emailed with a mouth full of sandwich.

            Or the CEO of IKEA could have inspected the proofs with a magnifying glass. To be honest it could be either or anything in between.

  4. At least they did a might fine job of removing them (ya know, instead of leaving feet just lying around).

  5. You left out: “It attributed the gaffe to the fact its Saudi operation is run by a franchisee.”

    i.e. this wasn’t done by ikea, it was done by someone else who is using the name.

    1. not to mislead, but yes, that was omitted from this short post. 

      What *is* misleading is that this “wasn’t done by ikea,” because it was absolutely “done by” an entity that effectively operates as their arm in Saudi Arabia, and quite profitably so, with the mothership’s consent and permission. Not like it was some wacky knockoff site, or an entity that operates with no oversight.

      1. Okay, with the parent company’s consent to trade as Ikea, but detailed oversight?  Really?  I’d be surprised if the Saudi staff had to have the catalogue approved by Stockholm.

        1.  Ministry,

          Stop trying to make excuses for Ikea.  As a former Big Corporation Employee, and former freelancer who dealt with Huge Corporations, EVERYTHING always goes through Central if it’s going out to the public.  I assure you that every aspect of that catalog–little things like Pantone color checks to make sure that the colors in the logo were the correct shade of yellow, etc. — were all looked at and signed off by the central office.

          1. As a designer who’s worked at a few big companies and now runs my own agency, you couldn’t be more wrong.

            It’s totally company dependent   There are companies just like you describe, and companies the complete opposite. And size is certainly a factor, but if anything the smaller the company the more likely the creative is to be signed off by someone higher up. Delegation and all that.

        2. Brand identity is all about consistency. There is absolutely no way a franchisee is off on their own doing anything unsupervised.

          1.  Chicago,

            Thanks for the backup.  I never worked anyplace–or worked WITH anyplace–that didn’t adhere to a style guideline book like it was religion.  Everything from colors to spelling to font size.

            On a sidenote, if you want to see a perfect working example of this, work on a Sesame-Street related project.  You never knew just how many regulations there are around Big Bird alone…

      2.  Could you please update the original post with this info? It’s really misleading to blame Ikea entirely when it was a company working under them…

  6. Let’s consider a hypothetical situation.  Suppose an Italian catalog sales company decides to open shop in the USA.  The catalog they mail to Italians includes pictures of topless women with their bathroom furniture.  However, the catalogs they mail to US customers have bras Photoshopped (“airbrushed”) onto the models.  Should this company be censured by the more freewheeling Italians for bowing to American prudery and censoring their US catalogs?

    1. They may well be, but there does seem to be a fundamental difference between removing a gender in its entirety and covering breasts. I can imagine an argument about covering the breasts being oppressive, and that may or may not be true, but it does not strike me as comparing apples to apples (so to speak).

      1.  I imagine they removed the women wholesale because that was easier and less noticeable than shopping Niqabs on every one of them.

    2.  This is exactly the sort of comparison I had in mind.

      Alternatively, would we feel better if Ikea had made the images suitable for public consumption by photoshopping burqas onto all these women (who are supposedly in their own home)? No. The image is as silly as photoshopping a robe onto a woman in a running shower to make that image publicly acceptable for the U.S. market. Public images of private life are going to walk a fine line, and it’s better for them to err on the side of inoffensive but shallow images.

      The issue most people here seem to have here is either that they didn’t spend the money to completely re-shoot/photoshop the catalog to omit ALL people equally — or rather, that a company didn’t spend money to alienate even more people — or that the company willfully tries to do business with people from another culture on their own terms in their own country. People will be relativists, up until they find a culture that they disagree with.

        1. You mean catalogs don’t just use casual snapshots submitted by readers? Well, now I don’t know what to think.

    3. Precisely. Every society has its limits of accepted speech and just because Saudi Arabia has different rules than most of the “civilized” world doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the right to enforce them. Sure, I’d like every country in the world to be a liberal democracy, but that’s not what we currently have to deal with. In the US violence is far more acceptable than sex, does that make more sense?

      1. I think you miss the point that half of the population of Saudi Arabia has no say in those rules.

        1. That’s because Saudi Arabia is not a liberal democracy. I’m all for voting rights for women and equality in general, but that’s not how they roll and there’s not much we can do about it, except perhaps for education – also known as indoctrination – in modern liberal values.

          Keep in mind that no country is perfect. In most modern democracies people under the age of 18 aren’t allowed to vote. In most places gay people aren’t allowed to marry and get the same benefits as straight folks. US has never had an openly atheist president, or a woman president for that matter.

          The point is that SA society has its rules and Ikea conforms to those rules. That’s not a Saudi idea, that’s a worldwide rule for businesses. In China you don’t speak about Tiananmen Square, in US you don’t show tits or say that it’s not the best country in the world, in SA you don’t show feet or women’s skin, in Poland you don’t desecrate a cross, in Italy you don’t say bad things about the president, in Germany you don’t show any Nazi-related imagery. None of those limitations are Ikea’s fault.

    1. I didn’t realize all the changes. You’re right. Also, and I know I may be an idiot for asking this, but why don’t they use Arabic numbers in Arabia? WTF?

      1. “Arabic” numerals are Indian.

        Kind of like how American Indians aren’t actually from India.

      2.  They do use Arabic numerals in Arabia. 
        Sometimes “arabic numerals” is written in lower case to distinguish it from “Arabic numerals” as the numerals specific to the Arabs. 

  7. IKEA in the U.S. was screwing over/discriminating against employees, and busting Unions (trying to squash them as they formed) in Danville, VA. here in the U.S. and elsewhere to little public concern.*  If only there had been some kind of ‘appeasing Muslims’, or culture war aspect to get people worked up.

    *Cory posted about it though.  Thx Cory!

      1. I stopped shopping there after the Danville thing, which also served as a good reason to avoid ever having to visit the Schaumburg store which felt like being trapped in a kind of shopper’s Thunderdome.  I think that’s the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like being trapped in a human version of a toy ant farm or cruel experiment..

        Never mind that Craigslist is full of scores of people trying to unload Ikea stuff they used for about a year.

        1.  Gotta say I heard the same thing about their Nottingham store; a friend of mine wrote a short story in mock-Biblical prose about a day spent there (complete with commentary on the hugeness of the place, the massive lines, and the joy of buying flatpack stuff that turns out to be longer than your car’s available interior space).

          1. The one here was the biggest one in North America prior to an even bigger one opening in Montreal apparently.  400,000 square feet.  It really is strange and disorienting, and worst of all:  always incredibly crowded.

    1.  Nevin,

      To be fair, I’m also not a fan of Ikea’s corporate practices in other areas. You left out that they also got burned over the whole “sustainable wood” thing–if you recall, they got caught using non-rainforest-safe wood for a bunch of items and they blamed “downstream providers.”  Come to think of it, that’s sort of the same excuse that Ikea is using now.  Ditto for all of their toys being “safe” and pimping the whole “if it’s in a Swedish store it must be up to Swedish standards” thing.  Living case in point:  My Mom picked up some blocks there, meant for children under 2.  When she got home with them, they were made in Thailand and had been painted with who-knows-what; no notices on the package RE lead-free paint, etc.  A few days later, the “Ikea toy story” broke on the news, much to our non-surprise.  FWIW, she kept the blocks to use as props for her science class but they didn’t go to the original kiddies as intended.

      1. I didn’t know about the wood.  It’s generally kind of lame that they seem to tout progressive Scandinavian notions/standards, but don’t really adhere to them very well in other countries.

  8. Apparently no one is concerned about the socks? I don’t like misogyny either, but this thing against feet is also very backwards. Join the modern world people; cast off your footwear of oppression!

    1. I’d always heard that that posture was very insulting in Arabic culture – essentially putting everyone else in the room beneath your feet. Why would putting socks on change anything?

      1. You know in Ace Ventura when Jim Carrey uses his butt as a puppet to talk to people? That’s disrespectful no matter how you do it, but it would definitely be more rude if his butt were naked, right? I think it’s kind of like that.
        Which just further proves how much better the world would be without this prudery. More bare feet AND more butt puppetry and more of ALL the good things. How cultural relativists ignore the intrinsic value of nudity and butts and etc, it is beyond me.

  9. Everybody doing business in/with Saudi does this sort of thing to a degree. From my past experience working in a university, we used to have to be very careful about any photographs in the prospectus…covering up as much skin as possible. No short sleeves, short skirts, etc. In one instance, a few photos were deemed to risque’ in the final product, and staff had to manually gaffer-tape over certain images for each physical copy of the prospectus being sent to Saudi enquirers.
    It seems that the rules have simply become much more strict/obtuse, and Ikea took the decision to avoid the whole hassle (reshooting/reprinting) by simply removing women altogether. A bit of a nuclear option, but certainly not the only company doing this. Have to say that most of the comment here amuse me to no end…they should have done this, and that, and not do business with Saudi, etc. Wake up people, EVERYBODY does this, it’s just that in this case they got publicised on BB.

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