Beyond Business: IKEA Brings Jobs and Hope to Refugees


Swedish retail company IKEA was founded by Ingvar Kamprad and is now a multinational company headquartered in The Netherlands. Since its beginning in 1948 this franchise-based business has greatly evolved and developed and spread far and wide from the U.S. to Southeast Asia. In fact, IKEA has 389 stores in 48 countries. The IKEA business idea: “We shall offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them,” has certainly proven to be successful. IKEA is not only strong in their business concepts but also in corporate responsibility, which they take very seriously.

IKEA’s vision is not just words but actions that are seen in the many initiatives and projects they engage in which cover a variety of social areas. According to their website, “respect for human rights, based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, is part of everything we do and is included in our supplier code of conduct, called the IWAY Standard.” The IWAY Standard guidelines are: no child labour, no forced or bonded labour, no discrimination, freedom of association, at least minimum wages and overtime compensation, a safe and healthy work environment, preventing pollution to air, ground and water and work to reduce energy consumption.

A look into their involvement worldwide and it is apparent that their efforts are genuine. Some of the social issue areas IKEA is involved in include the ethical recruitment of migrant workers, child protection and banning child labour, partnering with social entrepreneurs, helping cotton farmers, emergency response and helping refugees. Since 2015 IKEA has increased their efforts to help refugees, particularly from Syria, as a much needed response to the overwhelming and growing crises.

IKEA Product Designed for Refugee Camps

IKEA’s Better Shelter, specifically designed for refugee camps, won the 2016 Beazley Design of the Year. It was chosen as the winner for the “outstanding contribution towards the global issue of population displacement”. IKEA launched the emergency shelter in 2013. The shelter is 17.5 sq. m. and costs USD 1, 250 per unit. It lasts three years and is made of lightweight polymer panels laminated with thermal insulation, each of which clips onto a steel frame. A new and improved model of the shelter has been created since the initial design and deployment. The new design takes into consideration increased security measures concerning fire, wheelchair access and more flexibility in the interior arrangement.

IKEA Job Initiatives for Syrian Refugees

Beginning in February 2017, IKEA set forth the long-term plan of employing Syria refugee women living in Jordan. The plan is a result of the collaboration between IKEA and the Jordan River Foundation, an NGO established by Queen Rania of Jordan. The job plan additionally targets those refugees who are not living in any of the refugee camps in Jordan. For women struggling to survive in such difficult circumstances these opportunities are life-changing. Both women and teens are earning income and receiving further training to extend their skills as many women worked in other sectors before becoming refugees. They work together with Jordanian artisans to design and make the products. One woman, who was previously a school teacher in Syria, joked that the women at the workshop have competitions to see who can sew the fastest. IKEA also stresses that this initiative is a business collaboration, not a charity and that the employment contracts are longterm, not seasonal or temporary. During a tour of the workshops in Jordan, the head of IKEA’s social entrepreneur initiative, Vaishali Misra, stated that “It’s a long-term partnership that we have. This fits very well in our strategy of making life better for many more.”

The workers are paid at or above the legal minimum wage (220 dinars) set by the Jordanian government. They also receive social security benefits and insurance. Tahani Al Khatib, who works from home embroidering IKEA products said,“ I raise my children on my own and I’ve been divorced for five years. To work in Amman as a mother with children is very, very difficult and this is the only job that guarantees my income.” The flexibility of the jobs are of great help to women, many of whom are single mothers. Working from home and going to the workshop a few times a week allows them to care for their children while also earning an income and building relationships with the other women. IKEA plans to employ 400 Syrian artisans by 2020.

The first collection of products produced by Syrian refugees in Jordan is called Tilltalande, which means “attractive” in the Swedish language. The collection will be available at IKEA’s store in Amman and includes hand-crafted pillows, carpets and cushion covers with camels, cacti and other desert-themed designs. Collection developer Ann-Sofie Gunnarsson is confident that the designs of the products will be popular at all IKEA outlets across the world. She mentioned the difficulty of producing a design that is not only appealing but can be made quickly. Speaking of the collection and work of the artisans she said, “This is dignity and pride and this is the type of message we want to send with the products we make.”

IKEA’s social entrepreneur initiative in Jordan is not the first. There are special programs in India and Sweden for refugees and immigrants as well. Additionally, thousands of people all over the world are employed through IKEA’s various programmes. In reference to the company’s goal in global employment through social initiatives IKEA head-of-range and supply, Jesper Brodin, said, “Two-hundred thousand is our long-term ambition.” His opinion is that large corporations have a responsibility in finding solutions to the world’s problems. “If you want to change the world, you have to be able to scale ideas. If you want to scale ideas to create good, you need to have big companies with you. I think today there is a broad understanding that that needs to happen.” He added: “Jordan doesn’t make any sense from a financial perspective, at least not in the short term, but it’s part of resolving something.”