Uniqlo doesn’t fit the usual fast fashion model, the Japanese brand’s preppy look is more enduring than the usual ‘new styles every week’ shtick of other big brands. Plus, when it gets cold those cardigans can look pretty compelling! But…is there more to the story? We ask how ethical is Uniqlo?
Uniqlo’s founder, Tadashi Yanai, was ranked Japan’s richest man in 2015. The multinational retailer first opened in 1984 and emphasises low-cost, everyday fashion that doesn’t go out of style. And it seems it’s picked a winning formula with more than 3,000 Uniqlo stores worldwide. But let’s look at the story behind that super cheap cashmere sweater you bought in three different colours!
When it comes to the environment, Uniqlo has taken some steps in the right direction. For example, they have a repair and reuse program in place and report on their direct and indirect carbon emissions. Uniqlo has joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and has also made a public commitment to reduce its carbon footprint by 10% by 2020. That being said, this is still a brand built on a fast fashion mode with more or less disposable clothing, which is inherently harmful to the environment. They are also not as transparent about their environmental impact as they could be – we hope there aren’t any skeletons hiding in Uniqlo’s closet!
Uniqlo’s labour rating is ‘Not Good Enough’ based on the 2018 Ethical Fashion Report which looks at criteria including payment of a living wage, worker empowerment and transparency. Uniqlo received praise for their Supplier Code of Conduct. They also trace most of their supply chain including all of its final stage, however, they don’t publicly list their suppliers. Uniqlo audits most of its traced facilities over a two-year period, but they have minimal working empowerment initiatives and have been criticised for not implementing a living wage. Why the mismatch? A report released in October 2016 by the organisation War on Want, accuses Uniqlo of hiding human rights abuses behind ethical claims.
Uniqlo is on the right track with animal welfare, but again there is still room for improvement. They get a big thumbs up for banning the use of fur, angora, shearling and karakul. However, they do use down feather, wool and leather without specifying their sources. Uniqlo also uses hair from exotic species such as cashmere and mohair.