Ikea had a choice, and it chose (Russian) bigotry

International home furnishings giant Ikea had a choice.  And it chose bigotry.

As J. Lester Feder reported in Buzzfeed last week, Ikea pulled a feature story about a gay couple from the Russian version of its magazine, “Ikea Family Living,” out of concerns that the article might be illegal under Russia’s draconian new anti-gay “propaganda” law.

Buzzfeed points to an interview with Ikea spokesperson Ylva Magnusson in the largest Swedish daily, Aftonbladet, where Magnusson says Ikea pulled the article because of concerns about Russia’s law.  “They passed a law against gay propaganda in June,” Magnusson say, “and it’s the reason why Russia has a different article.”

The Ikea spokesperson goes on to say that Ikea is officially “neutral” on Russia’s legislative gay-bashing: “Our business is of course focused on home furnishings and we’ll be neutral.”

"Rör er sakta iväg ifrån barnet."

“Rör er sakta iväg ifrån barnet.”

That’s an interesting observation from Magnusson, as Ikea has been happy in the past to push the limits of civil rights, even in the face of controversy – and intentionally walking into controversy is not “focusing on home furnishings.” But there Ikea was in the early 1990s, running a television ad in the United States showing a gay male couple.  It was quite edgy at the time, and the Ikea spokesman even seems to brag about the pro-gay ad to Aftonbladet.

Here’s the 1990s ad:

So is Ikea all about business or not?

Oddly, the Ikea spokesman suggests in the Swedish paper that Ikea could still make a difference in Russia by being “an inclusive employer.”

“We believe that by working in Russia we could ultimately create a positive impact on society by being inclusive,” Magnusson says. “By being an inclusive employer, it provides both a better working environment and allows us to make better decisions.”

Really?  Ikea is promoting the hiring of gay and trans employees in Russia, in spite of the anti-gay law.  And how exactly is Ikea doing that?

Is Ikea providing partner benefits to their gay employees in Russia?  If that’s publicly known to Russian minors, it’s a violation of the law.  And is Ikea advertising their equal opportunity employment policy on their Russian Web site in Russian?  That’s likely illegal too.

And does Ikea realize that if a Russian newspaper or TV show interviews Ikea, and the company admits that it’s “inclusive” of its gay and trans employees in Russia, then Ikea has yet again run afoul of Russian law?

Ikea would like you to believe that it had no choice. More from Ikea spokeswoman Magnusson:

“We have two guiding principles in the communication that we want to convey from Ikea. The first is the home furnishings, the other that we follow the law. It is important for us to be neutral as between religion and politics,” she says.

Ikea had a choice.

Ikea could have tested the Russians and ran the article anyway.  Would the Russians really be so dumb as to take on a major foreign company, a major investor in Russia, at a time when Russia is desperate for foreign investment?

But Ikea had another choice as well.

Ikea could have simply pulled its magazine entirely from Russia, and put up a big sign in its stores where the magazines used to, and done a mailing to its customers in Russia in place of its magazine, informing everyone that the magazine was pulled because of Russia’s new anti-gay propaganda law.

While I’m no great fan of Ikea caving in any way to Russian bigotry, it’s at least marginally better for them to pull the magazine entirely, and put up a notice educating the Russian public about the ramifications of the country’s anti-gay, than to agree to ethnically-cleanse their own advertising in the face of nationalist bullies.

Here’s the lesbian article that Ikea pulled from its Russian shelves, courtesy of Feder at Buzzfeed.  And here are some photos of a gay-in some folks held recently at an Ikea in Brooklyn, to protest Ikea’s newfound embrace of homophobia.

(I’m told that in order to actually see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me – so say the experts.)

Clara and Kirsty IKEA feature by jlfeder

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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34 Responses to “Ikea had a choice, and it chose (Russian) bigotry”

  1. Hue-Man says:

    CBC Radio program “Q” with Jian Gomeshi had a good piece on IKEA lifting the lesbian article from the Russian magazine. “Jian gets insight on the decision from Ikea spokesperson Greg Priest as well as award-winning journalist and gay rights activist Joseph Huff-Hannon. Priest says the company values its diverse clientele but must obey local laws. Huff-Hannon counters that, given the vagueness of Russians homosexual propaganda laws, Ikea’s legal team could have moved the dial on the debate.” http://www.cbc.ca/q/blog/2013/12/04/ikea-lesbian-couple-controversy/ with audio file.

    Jian points out that the fine would be about USD 30,000 and there might be retaliation against IKEA’s right to do business in Russia. The repetition of obeying local laws by the IKEA spokesman (I felt sorry for him having to do his job) made me think that Rosa Parks and her descendants and community would still be riding at the back of the bus if they had followed IKEA’s lead. BTW, Huff-Hannon’s boyfriend is a gay Russian – his criticism of IKEA’s cowardice is the effect it has on Russian LGBT people who are under siege, many trying to escape.

  2. BillFromDover says:

    Whatever it takes to gain another fuckin’ dollar in my wallet instead of yours?

  3. Lawerence Collins says:

    These frauds aren’t followers of Christ at all! They are the real, true evil in the world. In America, they are, demonic, soulless, sociopathic, zombie, Rethuglican sheeple! They’ve co opted and perverted the message of Christ, they’re the exact opposite of his message of love, compassion, redemption and forgiveness. These demonic frauds in sheeple clothing are about fear, obfuscation, hate, bigotry, pain and death! There’s absolutely nothing Christ like about these greedy, arrogant, hypocritical, self righteous, sanctimonious frauds!
    Ikea should be ashamed of themselves! Thank you for your post.

  4. The_Fixer says:

    The thing that really gets to me is that they blew a chance.

    They took the “safe” road. It’s also more successful commercially, at least because it seems to be a guaranteed keep-the-money-flowing approach. But they had an opportunity to be a little bit daring (at least by business world standards) and possibly make their brand better.

    As John suggested, send out a mailing instead of the magazine. Have that mailing say something like:

    “We’re sorry, but due to government regulations, we will not be able to distribute this month’s edition of “Ikea Magazine”.

    “We had a lovely story about two people in love prepared for your pleasure. However, due to the ban against “Gay propaganda”, we are afraid that telling this story would put us in violation of that law. We were given no choice in the matter as we did not wish to break Russian law.”

    “We at Ikea would like to apologize….” etc.

    I think they had the opportunity to do something real positive and build their image as a company that is on the right side of history. But they really blew it. Too bad. Now they look like every other shareholder-value/bottom-line corporation out there.

    They spent some money targeting gay people with their marketing efforts. You’d think that they would at least show some support. If I was an Ikea customer, I’d feel pretty offended by this. Hardly good customer relations.

  5. The_Fixer says:

    Bravo! Great stuff.

  6. pappyvet says:

    Look like? If it quacks like a duck, then fold it into the flock.
    Profit above all is the damnation of Humanity and neutral is not neutral when faced with brutalizing hatred. How many times have we seen this sort of thing John?
    Corporations are people. People did this. One can either side with Humanity or side with brutality. There is no neutral. I find these actions to be most disgusting.

  7. Bill_Perdue says:

    Add them to the list that begins with NBC/MSNBC/Comcast

  8. emjayay says:

    Try the local unfinished furniture store. Simple, but real wood, not glued together sawdust junk.

    Everything from Ikea isn’t particle board. But don’t buy anything that is, unless you think disposable furniture is a good idea.

  9. will says:

    interesting. I really like your writing – do you have a twitter feed? i’d love to follow you,

  10. I may be posting this on the site :) Very well done.

  11. I actually did get a nice glasstop coffee table 20 years ago that I recently resold. It did hold up well, as did a folding cheapo but useful my-first-dining-room-table.

  12. I like Ikea. I don’t buy their furniture, but have bought some great picture frames (cheap and big and pretty). Also like their lighting, silverware, other supplies.

  13. I just find censoring the gays to be really offensive. I’m not sure people would have been happy with them pulling the magazine, but had they issued a statement saying “we’d rather publish nothing than publish bigotry,” people would have lauded them. Now they look like bigoted shills.

  14. ArthurH says:

    The website is http://www.ikea.com/US. The U.S. headquarters telephone contact is (610) 834-0180.

  15. basenjilover says:

    I searched Ikea website and not finding contact info. Anyone knows of one?

  16. Paul says:

    I agree with you completely about how they could have handled it while still avoiding legal penalties. I don’t expect companies to do the work of activists, but this blatant act of bigotry appeasement has my utter contempt. They’ve lost my business, the business they were attempting to bolster by including gay families in their advertisements in non-barbaric countries. I’m not a businessman, but my instincts tell me the brains behind this fiasco might be fired for incompetence.

  17. usagi says:

    The Parallel Economy is a group of Christian (Dominionist mostly) businesses that aspire to provide all of the goods and services required to other Christians so that they do not have to patronize any businesses that support a secular agenda. When you get down to the lower part of the rabbit hole, there’s the usual conspiracy stuff with demons and Satan replacing the Illuminati and the Lizard People in the New World Order. Thing is, there are parts of the country where they are VERY effective. You can’t buy from anyone who isn’t in the parallel economy, and the people who patronize it deliberately do so, quite literally, religiously (as in, it is a tenet of their religious practice to only buy from identified Christian sources so that their money serves only to further the cause, and they will go without rather than support the secular economy).

  18. Will says:

    Great post. Not sure about what you mean by parallel economy though, black markets?

  19. BeccaM says:

    Just like the International Olympics Committee is neutral on gay rights, even as Russia’s anti-gay pogrom revs up.

  20. BeccaM says:

    I’ve had three Ikea bookshelves since the early 1990s. Unfortunately, most of the others I can afford aren’t half as durable as these have been.

    And one of their thick tabletops and a set of trestle legs was my desk for nearly two decades, until I finally built a new desk for myself out of a redwood slab.

    Ikea’s ‘knock-down crap’ is actually better quality than the crap from China filling the stores.

  21. BeccaM says:


  22. Indigo says:

    Ikea makes a show of Scandinavian virtue where it fits the local pattern but ultimately, a corporation is a corporation is a corporation and corporate interests regularly take the lead, regardless of other messages. There’s only one message any corporation has and that is profit. Disappointing, yes, but as predictable as a McDonald’s in China.

  23. UncleBucky says:

    Hell. Show robots instead. That’ll do it.

  24. karmanot says:

    Well done usagi, well done!

  25. Zorba says:

    Excellent, excellent comment, usagi. I wish I could give you many, many “likes!”

  26. usagi says:

    Dear World Brands (and aspiring world brands),

    Thanks so much for realizing that gay people have money to spend on the stuff you’re selling and that targeting us directly in your advertising makes it more likely we’ll throw some of that money your way. You’re a bit late to the party, but the good news (for you) is that most of the gay-specific stores that popped up in the 80s and 90s have gone the way of the dodo. There are two important things you need to get up to speed on though if this is going to work for you:

    First, it’s the 2010s. While including same sex couples (or even a ssc w/their kid) was absolutely radical back in the day, it isn’t anymore. In fact, it’s sort of de rigor (you have heard that in about third of the states in the US, we’re up to legal marriage? Yeah, really, who saw THAT coming ten years ago?). Non-discrimination policies, spousal benefits, outreach, IGB video, targeted advertising, all that? Yeah, that gets you zero bonus points anymore because it’s the minimum standard (but hey, at least you’re in the game).

    Second, you can’t thread the needle on this. Sorry. There’s the core of hardcase nutjobs who really most sincerely hate Teh Gays with every fiber of their being. Sometimes it feels like they don’t do anything but wake up in the morning and look for something to be offended by (kind of like that shitstorm General Mills walked into a few months back with the Cheereos commercial with the adorable bi-racial girl who talked to her white mother about how it was heart-healthy and then put cereal on her black father’s chest while he was sleeping on the couch; how adorable was that? Yeah, probably better you don’t read the comments on that video or you might start thinking that the whole idea of a post-racial society was a bigger crock of shit than the tooth fairy). So, like the old song goes, there are no neutrals here (or if you want to flash back to the millennium, you’re either with us or you’re against us).

    You can either appease the haters or you can market to us. You can’t do both successfully. The world is too connected now. We don’t hear about this stuff two moths after it happens in the back of a weekly gay paper, we see it in a dozen twitter feeds and Facebook status updates almost as soon as it happens. Kinda sucks for you, but it’s an imperfect world. If you’re going to market to us, you’d better commit. We’re a bit touchy about the whole commitment thing (fair weather friends, years of being asked to hide behind the potted plants on the edge of the room–you understand).

    Here’s the thing, those people who hate the gays so very, very much will always find something to call you on. You really can’t ever appease them. In fact, since you’ve explicitly pulled the gay content for them, they’re liable to start looking for coded stuff that you left in whether it’s there or not (rainbow fingernail polish and so forth). Even if they crow about getting you to endorse their gay hating agenda (which BTW is standard operating procedure for them. They lie about things like that. A lot.), they’re still not going to buy your stuff. Google “parallel economy” sometime to get an idea what they really think of you.

    We, the gays, on the other hand, are generally happy to spend money on people who flatter us with advertising. The flip side is we’ll cut you so fast if you betray us, you won’t know what hit you. And no one carries a grudge the way we do (ask Coors Beer about how that goes).

    So, most people are willing to forgive a little advertising faux pas. Once. Really, we get that World Brands still aren’t totally up to speed on the new interconnected world we live in. The corollary is that you get one chance to fix it, too. Or we cut you. Because if there’s one thing that we’ve learned very vividly, it’s that our worst enemies aren’t the haters. There aren’t that many of them; they’re just very, very noisy. No, our worst enemies are the neutrals. Because they pretend they’re not doing anything for anyone, but what that really means is that they’re enabling the haters and defending the status quo (for whatever reason: ignorance, cowardice, profit–it really doesn’t matter).

    You want our money and our business. Cool. Earn it.

  27. Will says:

    Not to mention that they served horse meatballs.

  28. Badgerite says:

    That explains their ‘neutrality’. ‘Neutrality equals ‘money grubbing, lack of a spine’.

  29. Fentwin says:

    It seems to be a standard business model; profits > people.

  30. Monoceros Forth says:

    Unimaginable, hm? It’s either “knock-down crap” or the thrift shop for my mate and me. Not all of us can afford quartersawn oak and patent leather.

  31. kingstonbears says:

    I would recommend boycotting their stores but can’t imagine that too many of us buy their “knock-down” crap.

  32. Exactly. “I’m neutral on murder.”

  33. Naja pallida says:

    Not exactly something new. IKEA scrubbed women from the Saudi Arabian version of their catalog just last year. They apologized for it after being castigated by the public and the Swedish government, and you’d think they’d have learned something. But it’s obviously a pattern of IKEA not wanting to do anything to rock the boat in places they soak up their money. They’re known to be anti-union, spy constantly on their employees, have repeating patterns of complaints about racism and other forms of discrimination in their workplaces. When discussing workers rights, they even came out and clearly stated that workers in China basically have no rights… and guess where many of their products are made?

  34. Badgerite says:

    Neutral? How can you be ‘neutral’? As Kennedy said, what we confront is essentially a moral issue. This is right vs wrong. There is no neutral. If they start taking children away from parents, will they still be ‘neutral’?

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