The furniture company marked the celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the US with foodstuffs often associated with racist tropes about African Americans.
In a statement to The Independent, an Ikea spokeswoman confirmed about 20 employees walked off the job in protest at the offensive menu which the company says was developed, in part, by Black staff.
"To honour the day, a lunch menu was created with the best of intentions, including recommendations from black co-workers," the spokeswoman said. "We got it wrong and we sincerely apologise."
The staff walkout was first reported by local news broadcaster CBS46 after the company sent the internal menu to employees via email on Friday.
Anonymous employees quoted by the outlet were particularly offended by the watermelon, which they called racially insensitive and ignorant.
“You cannot say serving watermelon on Juneteenth is a soul food menu when you don’t even know the history, they used to feed slaves watermelon during the slave time,” the employee said.
Ikea’s spokeswoman said the menu was changed after receiving the complaints, with internal emails reported by CBS46 listing the new menu as including meatloaf, mashed potatoes, collard greens and cornbread.
There was some dispute between local store staff and Ikea’s North America headquarters, with Atlanta employees telling local reporters that the Juneteenth menu was served to customers and that fried chicken was back on the menu a day after the new US holiday over.
"They just delayed the menu by a day. Thinking that everyone who was upset by the Juneteenth menu stayed home on Juneteenth and wouldn’t notice, which just added insult to injury,” an anonymous employee was quoted as saying by CBS46.
Ikea, however, maintained that the menu was only for co-workers as part of an internal celebration, which the Atlanta store had held for the past four years. The company offers Juneteenth as one of its paid national holidays.
Local employees also claimed no Black staff were included in the Juneteenth celebration planning, while Ikea said there were multiple Black staff included but that they couldn’t go into more detail out of respect for their privacy.
"We value our co-workers’ voices and changed the menu after receiving feedback that the foods that were selected are not reflective of the deeply meaningful traditional foods historically served as part of Juneteenth celebrations," the spokeswoman said.
"We are committed to educating ourselves and putting a process in place that will allow us to thoughtfully honour Juneteenth in the future."
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