IKEA photoshops women from its Saudi catalogue
12 November 2012 -

IKEA, a company known for its strong CSR program, recently found itself the target of internet outrage when it was discovered that it had used photoshop to erase the women in its Saudi Arabian catalog. In the images, men and children remain, but the women have evaporated.

Were human rights activists and interested observers justified in taking offense to IKEA’s disappearing ladies? Of course,   companies must respect local tastes, laws and norms, not only for CSR reasons, but for their bottom line. Advertising materials, even products themselves, differ depending on the target market. That said, IKEA stumbled into a hornet´s nest when it decided to follow the Saudi Arabian stricture against depicting grown women in printed materials. In an atmosphere of extreme religious conservatism, women only occasionally show up in ads and magazines, and only then in clothing that leaves them fully covered. Censors often use black markers to cover up bare flesh in foreign publications. IKEA´s actions only seem reasonable on the surface. Deeper down they conflict with a company that prides itself on projecting a progressive, socially conscious image.

IKEA could have avoided the controversy by simply re-shooting with no women or, better yet, re-shooting with no humans at all. Instead, its actions appear to implicitly accept Saudi Arabia´s marginalization of women: Women not only must not be seen, they must be erased.

The company issued an apology in early October, saying that ”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.” It went on to say that ”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 catalog worldwide.”

IKEA’s example goes to show that all CSR actions must be evaluated on a commonsense, case-by-base basis. Embracing mainstream cultural values does not necessarily mean showing sensitivity to local issues.











- Allison Guy.