The issue was highlighted on Monday by the free newspaper, Metro, which compared the Swedish and Saudi versions of the catalogue and showed that women had been airbrushed out of otherwise identical pictures showcasing the company’s products.
Ikea’s Saudi catalogue, which is also available online, looks the same as other editions of the publication, except for the absence of women.
One picture shows a family apparently getting ready for bed, with a young boy brushing his teeth in the bathroom. However, a pyjama-clad woman standing next to the boy is missing from the Saudi version. Another picture of five women dining has been removed in the Saudi edition.
Ikea released a statement expressing regret over the issue, saying: “We should have reacted and realised that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalogue is in conflict with the Ikea Group values.”
Women appear only infrequently in Saudi advertising, mostly on Saudi-owned television channels that show women in long dresses, with scarves covering their hair and long sleeves. In imported magazines, censors black out many parts of a woman’s body including arms, legs and chest.
When Starbucks opened its coffee shops in Saudi Arabia, it removed the long-haired woman from its logo, keeping only her crown.
Sweden’s equality minister, Nyamko Sabuni, said Ikea was a private company that made its own decisions, but added that it also projected an image of Sweden around the world.
“For Ikea to remove an important part of Sweden’s image and an important part of its values in a country that more than any other needs to know about Ikea’s principles and values, that’s completely wrong,” Sabuni told the Associated Press.
Ikea Group, one of the many branches in the company’s complicated corporate structure, said it had produced the catalogue for a Saudi franchisee outside the group.
“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 catalogue worldwide,” it said.