Joanna Blythman: Ikea: is it time to bring back the chintz?

Share
Related Topics

If you stop to think about it, Ikea is the Walmart of the furniture world, and yet it hasn't featured in the rogues' gallery of brands that anti-globalisation activists love to hate. This is surprising. With its brash, cloned, super-sized blue box developments on every continent but Africa, it offers an obvious target. At the very least, it is implicated in the death of traditional town centres caused by out-of-town retail parks and the decimation of smaller furniture manufacturers.

But Ikea has been hugely successful in getting us to buy into its Scandi-chic image and the promise of good design and functionality at rock-bottom prices. However much we moan about being funneled like lab rats through its maze-like stores, lots of people have a soft spot for Ikea. Albeit with a Swedish accent, it speaks the seductive, universal language of retail democracy devised by the Walmart founder, Sam Walton, subsequently perfected by Tesco. Every little Ikea tealight holder helps to make our homes that bit more stylish, or so we think.

But if "Ikea: Bringing great design to the masses" was reading book one, reading book two shows the chain in a more critical light. Last year, the International Labour Rights Forum highlighted allegedly unsafe practices in a Turkish factory supplying Ikea with bed linen. Ikea said its own investigations and that of an independent audit concluded that there were no major labour problems there.

Now, following an investigation by Sweden's SVT TV channel, Ikea stands accused of siphoning millions into a Lichtenstein tax haven. It is alleged that its founder, the famously parsimonious and somewhat eccentric Ingvar Kamprad, has been secretly running his empire via a foundation based there, which it is alleged helps Ikea to avoid paying millions in tax.

This may sound like the opening plot line from Stieg Larsson's thriller The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo but any parallel with Mikael Blomkvist's fictional investigation into the tax affairs of Swedish tycoons stops there. If SVT's allegations are founded, it has uncovered nothing illegal, just the normal business practice of "tax-efficiency". Mr Kamprad flatly denies allegations that the foundation's aim was to avoid tax and insists that Ikea pays all its dues. "An optimised tax structure gives us the possibility of flexibility in using our assets that have already been taxed in one market," he explains.

But now that a spotlight has been shone on the tax-minimising activities of corporations, thanks to initiatives such as Christian Aid's Trace The Tax campaign, Ikea may find itself in company with other global brands such as Vodafone and Unilever that have been targeted by campaigners for more transparency in their tax dealings. Vodafone stores have been closed down by angry street protests. Were it not for the fact that the sheer vastness of their façades makes them hard to picket, Ikea could be the next in line.

It was only a matter of time before the shine wore off Ikea, tax apart. Disillusionment goes beyond the fiendishly difficult assembly of its flat packs or the short burning time of its candles. Singlehandedly, Ikea has created a culture of disposable furniture.

Like Primark's too-cheap-to-refuse clothing offer, the chain has abolished the concept of durability, as evidenced by the mountains of its non-recyclable, throwaway furniture clogging up our landfill sites. Ironically, one of Mr Kamprad's oft-quoted homilies is "waste of resources is a mortal sin at Ikea"– a sentiment that clearly does not extend to its products once sold.

As those who run antique and charity shops will tell you, our old furniture was once worth keeping. Now the nation is awash with Ikea cast-offs fit only for the bin. Well-made, enduring mass-market furniture of yesteryear, such as Ercol, is in vogue, featuring prominently in vintage home makeovers. It's unlikely that Ikea will ever replace it. The brand already looks as collapse-prone as one of its flat-pack clothes racks.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Web developer (C#, MVC4, HTML5, CSS3, Javascript, Jquery)

£30000 - £44000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Web deve...

Senior Automation QA Engineer (Java, Selenium WebDriver, Agile)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Senior A...

Web developer (C#.NET, ASP.NET, MVC3/4, HTML5, CSS3, JAVASCRIPT

£35000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Web deve...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation on the country's Independence Day in New Delhi, India  

With Modi talking tough and Sharif weak, the India-Pakistan love-in could never last

Andrew Buncombe
At the time of the investigation Patrick Foster published a statement on Twitter, denouncing the “unnecessarily heavy-handed police investigation”  

Long-term bail allows lazy police and prosecutors to leave cases to gather dust

Oliver Wright
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment