Ethical Performance
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editorial

Taking an ethical stance and sticking with it

December 2013

Disappointed doesn’t come close. News that IKEA failed to make a stand on lesbian and gay rights in Russia, dismays and disillusions me. Only months ago, the Swedish furniture giant was falling over itself to apologise for one of its catalogues Photoshopping the presence of women out of its pages in Saudi Arabia.

While Saudi Arabia is often criticized for its treatment of women that includes forbidding travel, study or work without permission from their male guardians, it doesn’t prohibit women from being depicted in marketing material.
"As a producer of the catalogue, we regret the current situation," Ylva Magnusson, spokeswoman for IKEA Group, an Inter IKEA Systems affiliate that runs 298 of 337 IKEA stores world-wide commented. "We should have reacted and realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalogue is in conflict with the IKEA Group values."

It’s a shame those IKEA Group values don’t count for much in Russia. Self same Ylva Magnusson has just defended the company’s decision to remove an article about a lesbian couple from Russian versions of a customer magazine that is distributed all over the world, telling 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."
It replaced the ‘offending’ article – deemed illegal following Russia’s archaic and despotic new law outlawing the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" – with a feature about a designer living in China. If the company truly believes in its public statement that it "encourages fair treatment and equal employment opportunities without regard to race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, age or sexual orientation”, why did it not simply print blank pages which might indicate to the Russian people that something was afoot and to go Google? It wouldn’t have broken any laws. It would have made a point.

Ah, yes, but Russia is IKEA’s fifth biggest market. But isn’t the whole point of being ethical and taking a stance, the whole point? Being ethical isn’t easy. But businesses can put their ethics first and not commit commercial suicide. Look at what the late Anita Roddick achieved with The Body Shop.

I remember last summer when a relatively big beauty brand announced its plan to move into China. It had –up to that point – been widely supported for its tough anti-animal testing stance. Following a great consumer outcry, it changed tack and performed a deft U-turn saying rather than ‘encourage dialogue and provoke change’ (which was its original plan with the strategy), it would defer market entry and ‘remain true to its core principles’.

Is that really too much to ask? To remain true to core principles? IKEA are you listening? Coca-Cola, sponsor of the upcoming Sochi winter Olympics which bills itself as “one of the world’s most inclusive brands that values and celebrates diversity,” are you?
 




Global | Business ethics

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