Homeware and storage giant IKEA was forced to stall production of their US 2021 catalogue after an image some argued was racist was included.
The Swedish-based company ultimately ripped out the pages of the catalogue containing the image, after an employee alerted them to the potentially offensive nature of the photograph, according to reports from US publication Quartz.
The snap behind the controversy shows a young Black man assembling one of the company’s coffee tables.
In the photograph, he is wearing a black T-shirt with a series of numbers across the back – 45678.
According to the employee, the detail mimics a prison serial number, something which in the current climate of Black Lives Matter protests and calls for police reform, particularly when it comes to the high rates of incarceration of Black Americans, was seen as highly inappropriate.
In a statement to Quartz, the retailer acknowledged that the photo was potentially offensive and that they would rip out the pages it appeared on from the catalogue.
“After reviewing the photo, we agree that it could lend itself to negative interpretation and reinforce negative stereotypes,” the statement reads. ”As a purpose-led organization where diversity and inclusion are core values, IKEA strives to be a force for positive change in society. An important part of advocating for change is acknowledging and taking action when we get it wrong. We are committed to doing so in an open and transparent way.”
The retailer issued another statement to wider publications apologising for the oversight they say was ‘not intentional’.
“In a number of versions of the IKEA Catalogue 2021 there is an image of a man which was intended to illustrate the IKEA assembly service,” the statement reads. “We understand that the image can be interpreted as reinforcing negative racial stereotypes. We are deeply sorry for this and assure you that it was not intentional.”
The company has now removed the image altogether, with another photo of the same man in a less problematic white jumper still included.
The catalogue was due to hit shelves in August, with the delay raising red flags. The updated catalogue, currently available online, will reportedly be in US stores later this year.
It’s not the first time the IKEA catalogue has raised eyebrows.
In February 2019 the company caused uproar when it altered certain images in its catalogue to exclude female models for conservative and traditional markets.
Images that in most nations showed a father, two sons and a mother in various situations were changed to exclude women altogether in ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods in certain parts of Israel.
The move prompted a multi-million dollar lawsuit in Israel filed by a modern Orthodox woman, Hannah Katsman, and the Israel Religious Action Center.
Filed in the Jerusalem District Court, the suit claimed IKEA’s decision to remove women from its catalogue was gender discrimination.
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