After receiving positive press in the US for featuring a same-sex couple in their advertising – a common move for the chain in the West – IKEA has been thrown into a potential public relations nightmare after a gay couple were poised to win a competition to be on the cover of their 2017 catalogue.
The furniture and homeware giant set up a competition inviting people to be photographed in their Russian stores, with the images to be voted on online.
The winning image was to be featured on the cover of the 2017 IKEA catalogue.
As reported by the BBC World Service, the prize was poised to go to two men posing intimately together.
Their entry received thousands more votes than the nearest rival, spurred on by a campaign from the ‘Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality’ page on VK – the Russian equivalent of Facebook
The image has now been removed. In its place is a message in Russian: “The photo is removed from competition at the request of the participant.”
It’s unclear what reason the participants had for requesting the removal, though stories of thugs targeting LGBT+ people for harassment and violence are common in Russia.
The potential win may have been problematic for IKEA in a country which prohibits ‘homosexual propaganda’ and messages which support equality between homosexual and heterosexual relations.
Prior to the image’s removal, Igor Kisil from IKEA Russia told the BBC he didn’t see any conflict with the country’s laws.
“We are working in compliance in with existing law,” he said, “but we are also sticking to our values, and one of the values is diversity and inclusion for everyone.”
“I don’t think it goes against the legal position in Russia,” he said, rejecting the idea that IKEA would change the outcome.
“We set the conditions of the contest which are fair and equal to all participants and we’ll stick to these conditions,” he said.
Reactions to the couple had been mixed, he said, which was to be expected.
It’s currently unclear what prompted the removal of the entry from the site, which now features a holding image.
IKEA Australia forwarded our inquiry to IKEA Russia and declined to provide a response.
Igor Kisil told the BBC the company supported all forms of relationships.
“As you know we at IKEA welcome everybody or anybody regardless of their age or gender identity or physical ability, ethnicity, race – anything – or their sexual orientation,” he said.
“This week, a couple of boys have come to the store – take a picture of themselves – and decided to take part in the competition.”
“It’s not for me to judge whether they are gays or not,” Kisil said, noting that there had been a news report in which one of the boys denied that he was gay.
It’s not the first time IKEA has encountered issues in Russia.
Last year, the company closed its online magazine after removing an interview with a lesbian couple for the Russian version drew international condemnation.
“When we do business, we observe the legislation of the countries where we work, therefore to avoid violations, we have taken the decision to stop publishing the magazine in Russia,” a statement said.
The Swedish company is also involved in a number of legal disputes in Russia. Police recently raided their Russian headquarters, which the company says was part of a blackmail attempt.