- In a U-turn on Thursday, Uniqlo said it will suspend operations in Russia due to “operational challenges and the worsening of the conflict situation.”
- Owner Tadashi Yanai previously said the brand will stay in Russia because “clothing is a necessity of life” and Russians “have the same right to live as we do.”
- The initial decision resulted in a backlash and calls for boycott, with the Ukrainian ambassador to Japan shaming the company on Twitter.
- While some lauded the brand’s decision to suspend Russian sales, others expressed doubts behind its motivations.
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.”
WATCH: Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing said it would suspend the clothing brand’s operations in Russia, reversing an earlier decision to stay in the market https://t.co/BUfyYqcNE1 pic.twitter.com/H7LQc66J9E
— Reuters Business (@ReutersBiz) March 11, 2022
“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.
Yes YOU should have done this!!!! This is the most basic humanity act to protect necessity of Mankind. When there is no HUMAN left, who to wear Uniqlo? Ghost? Anyway.. 👏👏👏.. better late than never
— Joy (@apple121) March 10, 2022
If Uniqlo don’t stop its business in Russia, I will never enter its shop anymore!
— gary (@gary89797772) March 10, 2022
Exactly, now it seems that Uniqlo decided to suspend operations not because of any corporate moral obligation, but concern about global sales revenue in the long run.
— 612721831 (@HKer_2021) March 10, 2022
Was waiting for this decision – and here goes, @UNIQLO_JP suspended not because it’s immoral to finance war but because of problematic operations. How worse can it get with the brand which I used to like. Adding Xinjiang cotton to the mix, rotten values through and through
— Tetyana Oliynyk (@oliynyk_t) March 10, 2022
Doesn’t matter #UNIQLO shouldn’t exist anymore, they are stopping in russia because people protested. It shows their greedy culture !
— Sergeï Fuckovich (@PakTak3) March 10, 2022
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.”