The image: Ikea, famous for its sprawling showrooms and Billy bookcases, is not merely a furniture maker. As Sweden's most recognizable company, it's also something of a cultural ambassador, spreading Scandinavian aesthetics and Swedish meatballs to every corner of the earth. It's no surprise then that the company is coming under criticism for deleting women from its catalog in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, where women in advertisements are usually covered from head to toe. The Saudi version of the catalog erases a woman from a family scene in the bathroom; in the original she is brushing her teeth and wearing pajamas. (See the full side-by-side images below.) Another picture of five women at a dining table is also altered to delete the women.
The reaction: Swedish officials aren't happy about the photoshopping job. "You can't delete women from society," Swedish Trade Minister Ewa Bjorling tells Sweden's Metro newspaper. The company claims it regrets the move, saying it should have "realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalog is in conflict with" Ikea's values. However, this is not the first time the company has run into trouble for altering its marketing materials out of deference to authoritarian regimes. In September, Ikea "deleted a photo from its Russian corporate web page showing four young people in balaclavas," says Anna Molin at The Wall Street Journal. The company feared it "could have been viewed as a gesture of support for three jailed members of Russian punk group Pussy Riot," which has emerged as one of the faces of Russia's pro-democracy movement. Ikea at the time defended the move by saying it operated "outside of politics and religion."