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The Boston Globe


Juliette Kayyem

IKEA’s Saudi problem

Whenever I buy something from IKEA — a bookshelf for the kids, a storage unit for the basement — the domestic bliss that was promised in the pages of the Swedish company’s catalogue gets shattered before too long. “It’s broken,” my husband will complain as the simple instruction manual mocks us. A few hours later, possibly with glue, the “broken” set is complete, but the stress and annoyance last much longer.

That latent outrage towards IKEA must be shared universally. It’s one way to explain why so many global critics blamed the company for airbrushing out all the women in the Saudi Arabian version of its catalogue, a move made to satisfy the Saudi monarchy’s gender segregation rules. The scrubbing of the catalogue gave new meaning to the term “gone, baby, gone.” IKEA accepted the blame, citing a communications breakdown with its local franchise. But that explanation makes the whole controversy feel like merely a mistake. And it lets Saudi Arabia off the hook. IKEA’s real fault isn’t adhering to the government’s rules; it’s failing to use the furor over the catalogue to expose — and sharply condemn — the singular rigidity of the Saudi monarchy. IKEA should have named and shamed.

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