Uniqlo has reversed its decision to keep its Russian stores open on Thursday, saying all sales in the country — including online — will close in 10 days.
The Japanese clothing brand, a subsidiary of Fast Retailing Co., has received mounting criticism this week after its owner cited human rights to defend the initial move.
“Clothing is a necessity of life. The people of Russia have the same right to live as we do,” Fast Retailing founder and President Tadashi Yanai told Nikkei Asia.
The decision made Uniqlo stand out as one of the few global brands to continue operations in the country, which has been invading Ukraine for two weeks. Competitors H&M and Zara both suspended their business last week.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Japan Sergiy Korunsky was among those who criticized Uniqlo, accusing the brand of valuing Russians’ need for clothes over Ukrainians’ need to live. The hashtag #BoycottUniqlo also made rounds on Twitter.
In a change of course on Thursday, a Fast Retailing spokesperson told Nikkei Asia that arrangements were being made to suspend operations in Russia “as soon as we can,” partly due to operational hurdles. The company also released a statement condemning “all forms of aggression that violate human rights and threaten the peaceful existence of individuals.”
“Our company mission is centered around offering the general public basic, affordable clothes that are made for everyone. We believe it is our responsibility to provide such essential items to all, including those affected by conflict, natural disasters and other devastations,” Fast Retailing said.
“UNIQLO has made everyday clothing available to the general public in Russia too, as part of our mission. However, we have recently faced a number of difficulties, including operational challenges and the worsening of the conflict situation.”
To support its stance, Fast Retailing highlighted its $10 million donation to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which will be used to provide urgent assistance as shelter, psychosocial support and basic relief items. The company also pledged to donate 100,000 pieces of Uniqlo clothing, which will be distributed to Ukrainian refugees in Poland and other countries.
Since the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, multinational companies have increasingly paused operations in Russia. On Tuesday, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Starbucks and General Electric all made the same move.
Russians in central Moscow rushed to a local Uniqlo store following the latest announcement. “It’s sad that so many world brands are suspending their work in Russia and it’s too bad that so many people will be out of jobs,” one resident told Reuters.
Many Twitter users welcomed Fast Retailing’s decision to pull out of Russia, with some saying that they can buy at Uniqlo again. However, others expressed doubts about the company’s intentions, noting that the move was motivated more by money than a moral obligation.
The Russian invasion has killed at least 549 Ukrainian civilians, the United Nations said on Thursday. However, actual figures are believed to be “considerably higher,” especially in government-controlled territories and other areas with “intense hostilities.”