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Uniqlo shutters shops in Russia days after CEO said chain would stay because ‘clothing is a necessity of life’

March 10, 2022, 10:44 AM UTC
Updated March 10, 2022, 11:02 AM UTC

Fast Retailing Co.’s Uniqlo apparel chain said it will temporarily suspend operations in Russia, joining a growing list of global companies in curtailing their activities in the country after its invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

The move is a reversal after Fast Retailing founder Tadashi Yanai earlier this week said clothing is a “necessity of life” and that Russians have “the same right to live as we do.” Other fashion retailers, including rivals Hennes & Mauritz AB and Zara’s Inditex SA, had previously stopped selling there as Uniqlo stores stayed open.

Although Fast Retailing unveiled last week plans to donate clothes and other items to Ukrainians who’ve fled and $10 million to the UN’s refugee agency, pressure had been building for the Japanese company act more assertively. There are 50 Uniqlo stores in Russia, the largest number of outlets outside of Asia, according to its website.

“Fast Retailing is strongly against any acts of hostility,” the retailer said in a statement Thursday. “We condemn all forms of aggression that violate human rights and threaten the peaceful existence of individuals.”

Yanai’s comments had been drawing criticism, with some social-media users pushing the hashtag #BoycottUNIQLO. Ukraine’s ambassador to Japan, Sergiy Korsunsky, also criticized the retailer on Twitter, saying “the more companies that withdraw from Russia, the better.”

The invasion of Ukraine is causing an exodus of companies from Russia, including Apple Inc. and McDonald’s Corp., reversing three decades of investment by Western and other foreign businesses there following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Asia’s biggest apparel maker entered the Russian market in 2010. It set up a joint venture with Mitsubishi Corp. in 2017 to further expand in the market. 

While there’s been a rush of U.S. and European companies boycotting sales and operations in Russia, that hasn’t been matched in speed by corporations in Japan and other parts of Asia. Like other Japanese businesses, including carmakers, Fast Retailing also cited operational difficulties. 

“We have recently faced a number of difficulties, including operational challenges and the worsening of the conflict situation,” the company said in Thursday’s statement. 

For Yanai, Russia’s war against Ukraine comes at a time when he’s seeking to expand Fast Retailing’s presence in Europe and reduce the company’s dependence on Japan, where the population is getting older.

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