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.”
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.