Can I still keep my Klippan loveseat?

Unlike other giant multinationals, Swedish home furnishings retailer IKEA has largely insulated itself from the criticisms of labor, environmental, and human rights watchdogs. In fact, the firm’s environmental and labor record are at the core of its success. While shopping at evil Wal-Mart conjures up a guilty feeling that all those “rolled back” prices have come at the expense of ...

605564_ikea8.jpg
605564_ikea8.jpg

Unlike other giant multinationals, Swedish home furnishings retailer IKEA has largely insulated itself from the criticisms of labor, environmental, and human rights watchdogs. In fact, the firm's environmental and labor record are at the core of its success. While shopping at evil Wal-Mart conjures up a guilty feeling that all those "rolled back" prices have come at the expense of peasants in China who work for 30 cents a day and no bathroom breaks, IKEA is supposed to be different. From its children's playroom to its happy blue buildings, IKEA is supposed to be, well, nice. But is it?

The folks over at Le Monde Diplomatique were rightly skeptical. Can you really sell millions of birch veneered bookshelves for 30 bucks a pop without exploiting a few third world workers? To find out, three LMD reporters visited IKEA's factories and suppliers in poor countries. The answer, sadly, appears to be no:

In practice Ikea merely sands off some of the rough edges of exploitation. Employees have access to filtered water, gloves and separate toilets. They sometimes have tea breaks. But tea is no help in making ends meet. As soon as social issues such as wages, union representation and overtime raise their head, the tune changes."

Unlike other giant multinationals, Swedish home furnishings retailer IKEA has largely insulated itself from the criticisms of labor, environmental, and human rights watchdogs. In fact, the firm’s environmental and labor record are at the core of its success. While shopping at evil Wal-Mart conjures up a guilty feeling that all those “rolled back” prices have come at the expense of peasants in China who work for 30 cents a day and no bathroom breaks, IKEA is supposed to be different. From its children’s playroom to its happy blue buildings, IKEA is supposed to be, well, nice. But is it?

The folks over at Le Monde Diplomatique were rightly skeptical. Can you really sell millions of birch veneered bookshelves for 30 bucks a pop without exploiting a few third world workers? To find out, three LMD reporters visited IKEA’s factories and suppliers in poor countries. The answer, sadly, appears to be no:

In practice Ikea merely sands off some of the rough edges of exploitation. Employees have access to filtered water, gloves and separate toilets. They sometimes have tea breaks. But tea is no help in making ends meet. As soon as social issues such as wages, union representation and overtime raise their head, the tune changes.”

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.