Uniqlo Reversing Position, Announces Russia Exit

Uniqlo Reversing Position, Announces Russia Exit
Pedestrians walk in front of a shop of Japan's Uniqlo-operator Fast Retailing in Tokyo, Japan, on July 15, 2016. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images)
Naveen Athrappully

Japanese fashion brand Uniqlo has announced its exit from Russia after earlier saying it would continue operations, which drew widespread criticism amid global enterprises quitting en masse as a retaliatory action against the war in Ukraine.

“While continuing our UNIQLO business in Russia, it has become clear to us that we can no longer proceed due to a number of difficulties. Therefore, we have decided today to temporarily suspend our operations,” Fast Retailing, the parent company of Uniqlo, said in a statement on March 10.

“Fast Retailing is strongly against any acts of hostility. We condemn all forms of aggression that violate human rights and threaten the peaceful existence of individuals.”

The decision comes after Tadashi Yanai, the president of Fast Retailing, said that clothing is a “necessity of life” in an interview with a Japanese newspaper and that the people of Russia “have the same right to live as we do.”

The company also announced the donation of 200,000 items of clothing for Ukrainian refugees in countries like Poland and $10 million for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Yanai’s comments had drawn backlash, with the hashtag #BoycottUNIQLO being pushed by critics. Sergiy Korsunsky, Ukraine’s ambassador to Japan, criticized the company in a March 7 tweet. “UNIQLO has decided that basic need of #Russian to have pants and T-shirts are more important than basic needs of ?? (Ukraine) to live. What a shame!”

Russia has the largest number of Uniqlo stores outside Asia, with 50 outlets operating throughout the country. Moscow’s war against Ukraine has come at a time when Fast Retailing is looking to expand business in Europe, reducing its dependence on the aging Japanese market. During the last quarter, Fast Retailing’s business was boosted by its performance in Europe and North America.

Fast Retailing has previously been in similar controversy. In April 2021, Yanai chose to avoid the issue of his company sourcing cotton from China’s Xinjiang region where the Chinese Communist Party has put over a million people from the Uyghur community in reeducation camps. Uniqlo later faced an investigation in France over accusations that the company profited from human rights crimes against Uyghurs.

In addition to Uniqlo, several other fashion brands have announced exiting Russia. Prada has suspended retail operations while Hermes has temporarily closed its stores since March 4. Richemont suspended commercial activities in Russia on March 3.

Vogue Ukraine had called for an embargo on the export of fashion and luxury goods to Russia in a March 1 Instagram post. “Vogue UA appeals to the global fashion industry to not keep silence during these dark times as it has the strongest voice,” the brand had said.