December 1, 2023


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Uniqlo CEO goes against grain, vows to keep selling clothes in Russia

Uniqlo CEO goes against grain, vows to keep selling clothes in Russia

Fast fashion company Uniqlo will continue to do business in Russia as other major corporations close stores and halt operations in protest of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war on Ukraine, according to a report. 

The CEO of Japanese retail holding company Fast Retailing, which owns Uniqlo, vowed to keep Uniqlo’s 50 retail stores across Russia open, arguing that its citizens should be entitled to clothing and other essentials despite Putin’s actions, global news organization Nikkei Asia reported. 

“Clothing is a necessity of life,” CEO Tadashi Yanai told Nikkei last week. “The people of Russia have the same right to live as we do.”

Going against the grain

Yanai’s Uniqlo is an outlier among major corporations with footprints in Russia that have halted business operations in an effort to undermine Russia’s attack on Ukraine, even if it means taking a financial hit. Large companies from from Apple to Disney and Ikea have abruptly exited the Russian market since Putin sent his troops into Ukraine February 23. 

Uniqlo competitor and Swedish fast-fashion chain H&M also said it would “temporarily pause all sales in Russia” in part over concern for the safety of its employees.

“H&M Group is deeply concerned about the tragic developments in Ukraine and stand with all the people who are suffering,” the company said in a statement.

Fast Retailing’s contrarian move is generating backlash from some Uniqlo customers, who are fans of the clothing but less enthusiastic about its geopolitical stance.

There have even been calls on social media to boycott Uniqlo as a result of its decision to continue to do business in Russia, as millions flee war-torn Ukraine in an effort to protect their own lives. Uniqlo, which describes itself on its website as the “fourth largest retailer in the world,” operates around 1,500 stores globally. 

“And time to boycott Uniqlo. Really sad to read their announcement to stay in Russia,” Titter user Tiia R said Monday. 

Others on social media hurled expletives at the retailer and accused Uniqlo of supporting Russian aggression. They in turn vowed to boycott Uniqlo.

“From now on, I would not buy any Uniqlo stuff until you change your course upon the invading Russia,” a Taiwan-based Twitter user said. 

“Never buy @UNIQLO_JP again. They have refused to stop operations in Russia. Big red flag. Terrible values,” said @alejandro_m_g.

At the same time, Uniqlo has taken steps to demonstrate it supports the people of Ukraine, who remain under unrelenting attack by Russia. 

Last week, Fast Retailing said it would donate $10 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which is providing financial assistance to displaced Ukrainians. The funds will help cover the costs of shelter, psychosocial support and other services for those who were forced to flee, according to a statement from Fast Retailing

Neither Fast Retailing nor Uniqlo responded to CBS MoneyWatch’s request for comment. 

Fast Retailing also said it would donate 100,000 Uniqlo garments, including warm blankets, base layers and face masks to refugees.