14th December 2012
Nowadays the world is in a constant change and as a result the business environment has become significantly more complex and rewarding on the one hand, but more demanding and risky on the other. One of the major challenges that multinational companies face is dealing with the cultural context of the foreign markets they enter. The press scandal in which the Swedish company, IKEA, has been recently involved perfectly illustrates the dialectical effect of globalization: on the one hand, it encourages a more ‘global culture’ by bringing regions together and on the other, it confronts people with their economic, political and the most relevant for our case cultural differences (Crane, Matten, 2010). Due to these differences, people from varied countries and cultures may assess the moral nature of situations distinctively. Nonetheless, the rise of numerous divergent opinions on the ethical rightness of IKEA’s women airbrushing from the catalogues shipped to Saudi Arabia is due to the high moral status assigned to the decision: it has significant effect on others, namely women all over the world; alternative courses of action were open: using the regular IKEA catalogue including women and also more parties perceived it as ethically relevant: both regular, political and business people concerned about the impacts on women’s rights and Sweden’s image. Thus, after recognizing the moral issue, we can move on to the next stage of the ethical decision-making process by outlining our moral judgements on the subject and we will firstly support the idea of IKEA receiving justified bad press through two key arguments: protecting women’s rights and maintaining company’s values and principles.
Using as a starting point for our discussion the affirmation of the Swedish trade minister, Ewa Bjorling: "You cannot remove or retouch women out of reality" (Molin, 2012), we inforce the idea that women are an important part of our society, whose rights should be respected no matter what happens in the business environment. Since the entrance in the 2000 United Nations Global Compact, an initiative for companies to follow standards and best practices globally, in 2004, IKEA, together with many other transnational companies, was expected to uphold human rights standards: support and respect the protection of international human rights within their sphere of influence; make sure their own corporations are not complicit in human rights abuses (Crane and Matten, 2010). Unfortunately, the recent news proved that over time IKEA gradually departed from the universally applicable standards by engaging in activities which were blameworthy from the perspective of Swedish culture. According to the cultural interpretention of the Swedes, “some of the myths regarding Swedes are that all of them are tall, blue eyed and blonde” (Martinsson, 1991), but this not the main issue of our concern when trying to outline the cross-cultural differences between Saudi Arabia and Sweden. As opposed to Muslin countries, Swedish culture perceives women as part of its intellectual capital as gender equality is one of the cornerstones of their society (world leaders according to Global Gender Gap Report 2010).
To further prove the validity of our first argument, we can relate to the position of absolutism, by agreeing with the idea that if a moral principle was to be considered valid, it had to be applicable all over the globe. In the 21st century we cannot be immune to the harassment of women, just because the Saudi Arabian culture allows it. Thus, respecting human rights in general and women’s rights in particular isn’t a matter conditioned by culture – the local national culture impacts decision-makers where norms are ambiguous, but not, it...