Ukraine’s Ambassador to Japan Sergiy Korsunsky has vocally opposed Uniqlo’s decision to continue its operations in Russia, accusing the brand of valuing Russians’ need for clothes over Ukrainians’ needs to live.
Earlier this week, Fast Retailing Co., Uniqlo’s parent company, defended its decision to keep Russian stores open as other global companies moved to suspend their businesses. Among those that joined the exodus were Uniqlo fast fashion competitors Zara and H&M.
In a statement, Fast Retailing founder and President Tadashi Yanai — who is also Japan’s richest person — said that while there should never be any war, clothing remains a necessity of life. Russian people, he said, have the same right to live as others. “There should never be war. Every country should oppose it. This time all of Europe clearly opposes the war and has shown its support for Ukraine. Any attempt to divide the world will, on the contrary, strengthen unity,” Yanai told Nikkei Asia.
“Clothing is a necessity of life. The people of Russia have the same right to live as we do.”
Uniqlo has 49 stores in Russia. A spokesperson said they will continue to “monitor the situation,” but there are “no plans as of now to suspend our operations.”
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H&M paused all sales in Russia on March 2, while Zara, through parent company Inditex, followed suit on March 5. McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Starbucks and General Electric all announced the suspension of their businesses on Tuesday. On Monday, the Kremlin issued a list of “unfriendly” countries and territories that have taken “unfriendly actions against Russia, Russian companies and Russian citizens.” They include Ukraine, European Union countries, the U.S., the U.K. (including Jersey, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and Gibraltar), Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Albania, Andorra, Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Micronesia, Monaco, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and Taiwan. Shortly after the release of Yanai’s statement, Ukrainian Ambassador to Japan Sergiy Korunsky took to Twitter on March 7 to criticize the company’s decision.
“By [the] decision of the #RuSSia government [Japan] is included in the list of non-friendly countries with the rest of the democratic world,” he wrote. “And UNIQLO has decided that [the] basic need of #Russian to have pants and T-shirts are more important than the basic needs of [Ukrainians] to live. What a shame!”
In a subsequent interview with Bloomberg, Korunsky went on to explain why exiting Russia is more helpful than harmful in the long run. He said “the more companies that withdraw from Russia, the better.”
“Cutting business from Russia is not a loss, it’s an investment,” said Korsunsky. “If you prove some sacrifice of profit for a period of time, you encourage Russia to become a normal member of nations and you’ll get much more profit in the future.”
Uniqlo’s stance has drawn mixed reactions from Twitter users. Some pointed out that the company donated 1.15 billion yen ($10 million) to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to support Ukrainian refugees, while others simply called for a boycott. Meanwhile, some accused Uniqlo of sourcing cotton from China’s Xinjiang region, an area that has been a subject of forced labor controversy. So far, Yanai has declined to comment on the matter.