Companies of all types tend to change their approaches from one market to another; however, Sweden-based furniture company Ikea is drawing a lot of ire for removing a story about a lesbian couple from the Russian version of the Ikea Family Live magazine’s December issue.
A spokesperson for Ikea, Ylva Magnusson, told the Wall Street Journal, “One of the conditions we have of running our business is that we have to follow the law in the markets where we operate,” referring to Russia’s controversial law banning “homosexual propaganda,” which was passed in June 2013.
Some critics have called the removal of the story simple cowardice; Ikea told the Guardian that the decision was made after consulting with Russian lawyers in regards to what is considered “promotion” of non-traditional orientations.
Among other issues, groups against the law have denounced it for vagueness regarding what precisely constitutes propaganda.
In an article for the Huffington Post, András Simonyi and Nathaniel Hojnacki pointed out, “While their stance is a legally defendable position, it remains nonetheless a morally deplorable decision by IKEA’s Russian legal team and, clearly, its management.”
They admitted, “Executives of Western companies operating in Russia face a tough dilemma: to be silent and acquiescent or take a stance in support of LGBT rights. Of course, they have a business to run. But they should think about the future.”
“In the case of companies like IKEA who affect the lives of millions of families, straight or gay, directly every day in Russia this is especially important,” they continue. “Companies need to voice their support for values that they embrace at home and in a smart way push back against repressive measures like the Anti-Propaganda Law. Multinational businesses need to embrace their role as cultural emissaries, and make the conscientious decision to protect, represent, and where possible advocate for those consumers and employees whom are unable to do so for themselves. Their stance can help change the law. Their cowardice on the other hand will only further encourage anti-LGBT attitudes.”
Ikea has come under fire for censoring its promotional material in certain markets before; in 2012, images of women were Photoshopped out of the Saudi Arabian version of their catalog. Ikea later apologized, releasing a statement that said in part, “We should have…realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalogue is in conflict with IKEA Group values.”
Ikea is generally known for being LGBT-friendly; in 1994, it aired the first ever TV commercial featuring a gay couple.