MARISA TORRE WRITES – Despite the flurry of major retailers halting business in Russia, the major Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo, with its 49 stores in Russia, has no plans to follow the trend. Tadashi Yanai, the CEO of Uniqlo’s parent company, Fast Retailing, maintains an anti-war stance but described clothing as “a necessity of life” and said that “the people of Russia have the same right to live as we do.” This stance is notable given that comparable international brands Zara and H&M, as well as other major retailers, including Nike and Ikea, have vowed to pause sales in the country, at least temporarily.
Fast Retailing released a statement responding to the “humanitarian emergency in Ukraine.” The corporation cited its historic relationship with the United Nations Human Rights Campaign; it began donating clothes through the UNHRC in 2006, and then became the first Asian-based company serving as an official UNHRC global partner. In addition, Fast Retailing cited its commitment to “stand with people forced to flee” by pledging to donate 10,000,000 USD to the UNHRC as well as 100,000 pieces of Uniqlo clothing, such as masks, blankets, and winter wear.
Although Uniqlo’s donations may come across as posturing in the face of backlash, it is worth noting that Fast Retailing’s website documents long term efforts to support refugees, such as donating more than 46 million clothing items over the course of fifteen years, as well as its commitment to employ refugees in stores around the world and make financial contributions to several different refugee organizations— including the UNHCR Refugee Self-Reliance Program and MADE51, “a global brand for handicrafts created by refugees.”
Because the political and social landscape surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is changing so rapidly, the Japanese retail giant’s position may change as the conflict develops. Economic pressure is indeed mounting on the company as consumers around the world shift their priorities towards businesses that take a clear stance against Russia. In addition, with increasing international sanctions and the declining value of the Russian ruble, businesses are further motivated to pause business there. Still, just as we cannot predict future events in this global tragedy, we cannot predict whether Japan’s business interests will continue to eclipse global politics.