STOCKHOLM // Ikea is being criticised for deleting images of women from the Saudi Arabian version of its furniture catalogue.
Comparing the Swedish and Saudi versions of the catalogue, free newspaper Metro yesterday showed that women had been airbrushed out of otherwise identical pictures showcasing the company's home furnishings.
The report raised questions in Sweden about Ikea's commitment to gender equality, and the company released a statement expressing "regret" over the issue.
"We should have reacted and realised that excluding women from the Saudi version of the catalogue is in conflict with the Ikea Group values," the company said.
Women appear only infrequently in Saudi-run advertising, mostly on Saudi-owned TV channels that show women's bodies and hair covered. Imported magazines are also censored.
Ikea's Saudi Arabia 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 pajama-clad woman standing next to the boy is missing from the Saudi version.
Another picture of a five women dining has been removed altogether in the Saudi edition.
Swedish equality minister Nyamko Sabuni noted that Ikea is a private company that makes its own decisions, but added that it also projects 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," said Mr Sabuni.
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.