‘Clothing is a necessity of life’: Uniqlo owner defends choice to stay in Russia as other retailers flee

Fast Retailing CEO Tadashi Yanai earlier declined to comment on sourcing cotton from China’s Xinjiang region, a month before it was revealed the U.S. had blocked a shipment of Uniqlo shirts on concerns about forced labor.

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Fast Retailing Co., Asia’s largest retailer and parent of Uniqlo, will continue to operate in Russia even as international pressure to isolate the country for its invasion of Ukraine sees waves of companies pull out

“Clothing is a necessity of life. The people of Russia have the same right to live as we do,” Chief Executive Officer Tadashi Yanai said, according to emailed remarks that were first published by Nikkei. While he’s against the war, and urged every country to oppose it, all 50 Uniqlo stores will continue to operate in Russia.

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Fast Retailing Co., Asia’s largest retailer and parent of Uniqlo, will continue to operate in Russia even as international pressure to isolate the country for its invasion of Ukraine sees waves of companies pull out

“Clothing is a necessity of life. The people of Russia have the same right to live as we do,” Chief Executive Officer Tadashi Yanai said, according to emailed remarks that were first published by Nikkei. While he’s against the war, and urged every country to oppose it, all 50 Uniqlo stores will continue to operate in Russia.

His remarks run counter to moves by some of the world’s biggest brands to exit or suspend operations in Russia, a dramatic reversal of three decades of investment by Western and other foreign businesses following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. 

Yanai has said he questions a trend that pressures companies to make political choices. In April last year, he declined to comment on issues around sourcing cotton from China’s Xinjiang region, a month before it was revealed the U.S. had earlier blocked a shipment of Uniqlo shirts on concerns about forced labor. The company also faces a French probe alongside a number of fashion brands.

Nike Inc. and others have pledged not to use any cotton from Xinjiang at all, a step Fast Retailing has not taken yet, though the company insists there’s no forced labor in its supply chain.

Exodus

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has drawn international condemnation, sparked trade restrictions and financial penalties, and spurred an exodus of global companies. Fast Retailing’s bigger rival Inditex SA is temporarily closing its 502 stores in Russia and suspending online sales. Apple Inc. and Nike Inc. have also closed stores, while carmakers including BMW AG and General Motors Co. have suspended vehicle deliveries.

The Japanese government has followed the line of the U.S. and much of Europe in imposing a raft of sanctions, including freezing the assets of a number of Russian officials and oligarchs, as well as those of financial institutions including Russia’s central bank.

So far, Japanese companies are split. The country’s biggest carmakers Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. said they’re halting vehicle shipments to Russia, while a business lobby warned trading giants Mitsubishi Corp and Mitsui & Co. not to rush into exiting from a Russian oil and gas project. Japan Tobacco Inc., which has a 37% stake of the Russian market, continues to operate in Russia and says it is “fully committed” to complying with national and international sanctions.