Is Ikea really a responsible corporation, or is the quote in their catalog just PR bullshit?
July 24, 2006 9:46 PM   Subscribe

Is Ikea really a responsible corporation, or is the quote in their catalog just PR bullshit?

I was paging through my Ikea catalog, and I come across this quote (page 60 if you want to follow along): "IKEA makes purchases from approximately 1300 suppliers...[We] ensure that all IKEA products are manufactured under acceptable social, working and environmental conditions."

I always assumed that their dirt-cheap prices were the result of not caring too much about where their materials came from. So my questions are:

1) Is this accurate? Obviously "acceptable conditions" is subject to interpretation, but are they generally known for supporting fair wages and environmentally-friendly manufacturing practices?
2) In general, how would I determine this about an given company? I'm sure there are watchdog groups for stuff like this, but which are the most reliable / least biased?
posted by molybdenum to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:02 PM on July 24, 2006


That quote may or may not be true, but their corporate structure is a byzantine tangle appearantly designed to maximize tax avoidance and preserve dynastic family control. The Economist had a story on it a few months back, though strangely, I can't seem to find any reference to it on their site.
posted by Good Brain at 10:13 PM on July 24, 2006


BuyBlue compiles reports on companies in five areas. BB (not to be confused with BBB) is dedicated to:
businesses that share our progressive values and ideals. We believe in ... supporting businesses that abide by sustainability, workers' rights, environmental standards, and corporate transparency. At the same time, BuyBlue.org focuses sharply on businesses that violate the essential values of a sustainable, fair and profitable society through their policies and the politicians they support.
They give the thumbs-up to Ikea in the areas of labor/human rights, environmental practices, employment equality, and corporate/social responsibility; thumbs-down in industry practices.
posted by rob511 at 10:15 PM on July 24, 2006


On a somewhat-tangential-but-still-related note, you might want to read about the new store IKEA is building in Red Hook, Brooklyn. A quick search on Curbed gives you a number of news stories about the store. Among other things, they're accused of demolishing Civil War-era buildings to make way for the store, possibly dispersing asbestos into the air in the process, and I think there also might be concerns about the docks in Red Hook?

All I'm sayin' is, they seem to have pissed off a lot of Brooklynites.
posted by anjamu at 11:31 PM on July 24, 2006


All I'm sayin' is, they seem to have pissed off a lot of Brooklynites.

And it has nothing to do with the inconvenience of bringing thousands of people into the neighborhood to shop? I love the shit that neighborhood associations come up with when all they really object to is traffic and noise. If IKEA was building something useful that only the locals would be allowed to use, the neighborhood association wouldn't care if IKEA flattened a functioning 12th century orphanage to do it.

Don't base a coroporation's qualities on the rantings of pissed-off locals.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:21 AM on July 25, 2006


All I'm sayin' is, they seem to have pissed off a lot of Brooklynites hipsters who love nothing more than bitching about corporations and being anti-establishment.

Note also that two out of the three "negative" articles on the BuyBlue section on industry practices, are directly related to the Red Hook store and associated building demolitions. Only one pertains to the corporation as a whole and its business practices.

I'm not saying history doesn't have merit, and I actually tend to fall more on the anti-megacorp side of arguments, but good lord do NIMBY types and/or hipsters annoy me sometimes :(
posted by cyrusdogstar at 5:22 AM on July 25, 2006


Although this doesn't pertain to corporate practices, at least not in any direct way, Ikea's founder apparently had associations with Nazism in his youth.
posted by OmieWise at 5:52 AM on July 25, 2006


That quote may or may not be true, but their corporate structure is a byzantine tangle appearantly designed to maximize tax avoidance and preserve dynastic family control. The Economist had a story on it a few months back, though strangely, I can't seem to find any reference to it on their site.
posted by Good Brain at 10:13 PM PST on July 24


Google ikea tax charity. It's super-shady.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:26 AM on July 25, 2006


they're accused of demolishing Civil War-era buildings to make way for the store

This is a sad excuse. A lot of Red Hook is old buildings, for sure, but most of them are run down and unusable- totally unworthy of any kind of nostalgia.

I think there also might be concerns about the docks in Red Hook

Some of the land along the Gowanus canal is highly (Superfund-qualifying) toxic. Whole Foods had to put off opening their Brooklyn ├╝berstore for several years because of it. I don't think the docks where Ikea is going are similarly affected.
posted by mkultra at 7:14 AM on July 25, 2006


Disregarding how they may or may not treat their suppliers, employees or the environment - Ikea makes a whole lot disposible, short lifespan crap that no one really needs.

So, no. I wouldn't call them a responsible corporation. Whatever lip service they might pay towards environmentalism is rendered totally moot by the humongous piles of brightly colored junk they churn out.
posted by loquacious at 7:40 AM on July 25, 2006


Ikea makes a whole lot disposible, short lifespan crap that no one really needs.

No-one really needs... furniture? Or no-one really needs inexpensive furniture? I'm confused.

I get that you don't like Ikea furniture much, but it's not like the other companies with $300 couches and $50 bookcases are making heirlooms, and some people need a $300 couch instead of a $1000 couch.
posted by mendel at 7:57 AM on July 25, 2006


loquacious writes "Ikea makes a whole lot disposible, short lifespan crap that no one really needs."

I've found Ikea's stuff to be quite durable but then I've never bought anything that I didn't actually need from there.
posted by Mitheral at 8:47 AM on July 25, 2006


Ikea makes a whole lot disposible, short lifespan crap that no one really needs.

This isn't exactly true. I have tons of Ikea furniture for years. I've moved 3 times with desks, bookcases, poang chair, etc. And they are in as great condition today, after being taken apart and put back together many times, as they were when purchased 4 years ago.

Sure they do churn out some brightly colored crap, but the majority of their stuff is great quality at a low price. For people who can afford to shop at pottery barn, Ikea is probably not a favorable option. However, for people who can't afford Pottery Barn, Ikea provides a reasonable facsimile of an entire pottery barn living room/bedroom/kitchen for less than the price of a Pottery Barn Loveseat.

I always assumed that their dirt-cheap prices were the result of not caring too much about where their materials came from.

This is kind of true, but not in an evil walmart sort of way. About a year ago, I watched a dateline-type show about Ikea. It seems that they buy unusual things in bulk for pennies. Then they turn those items into something else. For instance, the voitve holders might have been manufactured as glass insulators by a company that went out of business. Ikea then buys the insulators for pennies and then turn around and sell them for .50 as votive holders.

Btw, here is an interesting article comparing (and contrasting) Ikea to Walmart.
posted by necessitas at 9:00 AM on July 25, 2006


oops
posted by necessitas at 9:00 AM on July 25, 2006


Loquacious has it.
Apparently Mitheral and Mendel are gentler with the furniture than I am.

I bought a fair amount of Ikea furniture a few years ago -- bookcases, chairs, a table -- all of it is now in pieces in a landfill somewhere. Their housewares -- coffee cups, sheets, storage containers -- are cute and cheap; that is all I would buy from Ikea now.

Go to your local (downmarket) antique store. You will be amazed what beautiful, solid wood, Ikea-esque mid-century modern pieces you can buy for the same money you would spend at Ikea.

Even if Ikea has high colonics in the factory break-room and buys only organic particle board from small collectives-- how can they be an environmentally friendly company when they are this vast chute pumping trash into the landfill, with your house as a brief waystation?
posted by Methylviolet at 9:42 AM on July 25, 2006


I'd hate to tell you how much "high quality" crappy furniture I've bought. After a few years it falls apart. At least with Ikea I know what I'm getting and am not paying a lot for it. (BTW, just this morning the new catalog was sitting on my lawn next to my newspaper --I didn't see anything I had to have either).
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:42 AM on July 25, 2006


Although this doesn't pertain to corporate practices, at least not in any direct way, Ikea's founder apparently had associations with Nazism in his youth.

About which he talked openly -- his parents were staunch Nazis and supporters of Hitler. He was raised with that ideology and belief structure, and like most early twenty-somethings who were raised in extreme ideologies, he turned into a huge fanboy in his late teens and early 20's. (Just look at your local megachurch or baptist church for a nice example near you.) He had quit his associations with naziism in any form by his late 20's.
posted by SpecialK at 11:01 AM on July 25, 2006


There was a post on Treehugger yesterday with a link to this Sustainable Industries Journal article about IKEA which you might find interesting.
posted by Edame at 11:36 AM on July 25, 2006


Methylviolet writes "Apparently Mitheral and Mendel are gentler with the furniture than I am"

Could be. Or I've been lucky enough to select their more quality items though I haven't really noticed much variability.
posted by Mitheral at 12:29 PM on July 25, 2006


I'm not saying history doesn't have merit, and I actually tend to fall more on the anti-megacorp side of arguments, but good lord do NIMBY types and/or hipsters annoy me sometimes :(

Please note that I refrained from ending my comment with "pissed off a bunch of Brooklynites ... which is a really easy thing to do." I'm trying not to make fun of them, seeing as it looks like I will be moving there shortly.

I'm certainly not arguing against IKEA in Red Hook, considering the closest one to New York City is currently in Elizabeth, NJ, and this will be great for all of the young people looking to cheaply furnish an apartment. Once they get over being anti-everything, that is.

What's NIMBY? Please do tell.
posted by anjamu at 12:46 PM on July 25, 2006


Not In My Back Yard
posted by OmieWise at 12:53 PM on July 25, 2006


I always assumed that their dirt-cheap prices were the result of not caring too much about where their materials came from.

Not because of the different way their shops work? Or because you have to assemble the stuff yourself half the time? I don't know anything about their corporate policies but that's a strange assumption to have made.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:08 PM on July 25, 2006


Go to your local (downmarket) antique store. You will be amazed what beautiful, solid wood, Ikea-esque mid-century modern pieces you can buy for the same money you would spend at Ikea.

Except that antique-store furniture is not broken down into its constituent parts and therefore readily loadable into a small coupe. I purchased two under-bed drawers, a large chest, and a chair this past weekend at IKEA, and was able to fit it all into my borrowed coupe without a problem. I doubt I'd've been able to fit any of it if it had already been assembled.

Plus I grew up in a 300-year-old hardly-renovated New England colonial furnished with tons of antique-grade furniture and assorted trappings...so at this point I'm kind of sick of antique-store furniture ;)
posted by cyrusdogstar at 8:04 PM on July 25, 2006


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