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Vietnam makes outdoor furniture for Ikea

Although designed in Sweden, outdoor furniture for home furnishings retailer Ikea is mostly made in Vietnam.

Pernilla Rosenqvist, chief representative of Ikea's rep office in Ho Chi Minh City, said Vietnamese factories produce Ikea's casual furniture made of natural fibers, such as rattan, bamboo, banana leaf and water lily. Vietnamese workers also make much of Ikea's wood furniture for outdoor use.

In Vietnam for 10 years now, Ikea also is tracing and testing about 20 different wood species found in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. "The biggest countries for the natural fibers are Indonesia and Vietnam," Rosenqvist said.

Compared with her experiences working in Pakistan and India, Rosenqvist said Vietnam offers better work environments. She finds that especially true for Ho Chi Minh City because its large commercial center makes it easier for conducting business than Ikea's other Vietnam resident representative office in Hanoi, which is more governmentally focused and has more state-owned companies.

"Coming from a revolution and from being a Communistic and Socialistic country, it's actually a better quality of worker focus in this country," Rosenqvist said. "At Ikea, we have our code of conduct where we don't allow forced labor or child labor, etc., and I would say it's one of the better countries that we work with. The recent war in the '70s also made equality between the genders a necessity for survival."

Vietnamese women are allowed to work in greater numbers than other Southeast Asian countries, she said. Ikea invests much effort in protecting the environment and overcoming such social challenges. Ikea follows its founder Ingvar Kamprad's vision "to create a better everyday life for the many people." As a result, Ikea also traces and restricts chemicals it uses. "That is really tough work out here in Asia, especially here in Vietnam where the export business has existed just 10 to 15 years," Rosenqvist said. "You could say they are still just in the cradle for being totally responsible for production, especially in textiles."

Although Ikea buys textiles from Thailand and China, Rosenqvist thinks Vietnam shows plenty of promise. "The Vietnamese don't look back," she said. "They are very futuristic and they want to embrace the world now in economic ways."

The Ikea Group's approximately $15 billion annual sales continue to grow worldwide, especially in the United States, China and Russia.

"We try to lead by design," Rosenqvist said. "We have to stay ahead. And the competition is getting tougher and tougher, that's for sure."

Founded in 1943, Ikea now operates more than 210 stores in 33 countries, including 23 in the United States. Its most recent U.S. store opening was in Atlanta at the end of June with another coming this month in metro Dallas. Other U.S. stores are planned for the Chicago area at Bolingbrook, Ill.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Canton, Mich.; West Sacramento and Dublin, Calif.; and Somerville and Stoughton, Mass.

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