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Ikea, Saudi style

October 1, 2012

Images of Ikea's censor-friendly Saudi Arabian catalog have raised eyebrows in the furniture chain's native Sweden. Ikea apologized for airbrushing out images of women; the Swedish government criticized Saudi Arabia.

A person holds a copy of the Metro daily newspaper in Stockholm October 1, 2012, with its front page comparing images for the IKEA catalogues in Sweden (L) and Saudi Arabia (R) for next year. The Saudi version of the the otherwise identical photos, does not show a woman.(Photo: Reuters)
Metro News IKEA Schweden Saudi-ArabienImage: Reuters

A mother in her pajamas helping her son brush his teeth is apparently a bit too blue for Saudi Arabia's taste - or at least for the operators of the company's franchise outlets.

Images from the Swedish (l.) and Saudi (r.) versions of the catalogue displayed side-by-side, with a woman missing from the Saudi picture. (Photo: Reuters)
Image: Reuters

The Swedish version of the free newspaper Metro acquired images from the new Saudi version of the Ikea Group catalog and published them on Monday, prompting an apology from Ikea and some terse words from the Swedish government.

"As a producer of the catalogue, we regret the current situation," the Ikea Group, which produces the magazine for its franchises, said in a statement. "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."

A spokesman for the company specializing in self-assembly, low-cost furniture told the DPA news agency that the group opposed discrimination and would review its current procedures in an attempt to "safeguard a correct content presentation from a values point-of-view."

Ikea airbrushes women out of its Saudi catalog

The trade minister in Sweden, Ewa Bjorling, did not directly criticize Ikea, focusing instead on Saudi policies towards women.

"You can't airbrush women from reality," she told Metro. "These images are yet another lamentable example of how much remains to be done concerning gender equality in Saudi Arabia."

Women in Saudi Arabia have limited rights compared to men. Laws forbidding women from voting or driving cars are two of the more prominent examples, although King Abdullah last year promised reforms that should give women the vote as of 2015.

Ikea stores in Saudi Arabia are owned by an external franchise owner, with franchises handled by the Inter Ikea Systems group, based in the Netherlands. Ikea Group in Sweden produces the catalogs, which were first printed in 1951 and have been published in more than 40 countries.

msh/pfd (AP, dpa)

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