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Someone sitting in a field of flowers wearing sunglasses and a bright yellow sweater with the word Uniqlo and a flat line emoji face overlaid.
19 Apr
Someone sitting in a field of flowers wearing sunglasses and a bright yellow sweater with the word Uniqlo and a flat line emoji face overlaid.

How Ethical Is Uniqlo?

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While Uniqlo presents a timeless and high-quality aesthetic, how do its ethics hold up? How ethical is Uniqlo? Here’s why the brand is rated our middling score of “It’s a Start” overall. This article is based on the Uniqlo rating, which was published in March 2023 and may not reflect claims the brand has made since then. Our ratings analysts are constantly rerating the thousands of brands you can check on our directory.

Is giant Uniqlo doing enough?

Uniqlo has an easy to wear casual look, and when it gets cold those cardigans can look pretty compelling. Its clothes may be more enduring than the usual “new styles every week” shtick of other big brands, but is there more to the story? We’re here to answer the question: how ethical is Uniqlo?

Uniqlo’s founder, Tadashi Yanai, was ranked Japan’s richest man in 2022, a spot he has held for years. The multinational retailer first opened its doors in Hiroshima in 1984 and emphasises low-cost, everyday fashion that doesn’t go out of style. And it seems it’s picked a winning formula, boasting around 2,300 Uniqlo stores worldwide. But let’s look at the story behind that cashmere sweater you bought in three different colours.

Environmental impact

When it comes to the environment, Uniqlo has received a score of “It’s a Start”, as it has taken some steps in the right direction. For example, it has a repair and reuse program in place and it offers clothing recycling to consumers to help address end-of-life textile waste. It uses a few lower-impact materials, and reduces water use in some spots along its supply chain.

The brand has set a science-based climate change target to reduce emissions in its supply chain, which is an improvement from previous ratings. The Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), which defines and facilitates SBTs, describes science-based climate change targets as providing “companies with a clearly-defined path to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goals.” Sadly, Uniqlo does not report the progress towards meeting its targets.

Labour conditions

Uniqlo’s labour rating has gone up from “Not Good Enough” to “It’s a Start”. It scores 41-50% in the Fashion Transparency Index. Its social auditing program covering its entire final production stage is accredited by Fair Labor Association (FLA).

A real disappointment here is that there is still no evidence Uniqlo ensures payment of a living wage, which puts a damper on the fact that the brand disclosed adequate policies to protect suppliers and workers from the impacts of COVID-19. Workers ought to be taken care of at all times, not just in light of a pandemic.

To make matters worse, the brand has been caught up in an ongoing worker’s rights case for years, and owes Indonesian garment workers $5.5m worth of severance pay. Uniqlo must take responsibility for the people in its supply chain before it can be considered a more ethical company—and it can certainly afford to do so.

Animal welfare

Unfortunately, Uniqlo’s animal rating has decreased from “It’s a Start” to “Not Good Enough”. The brand gets a big thumbs up for banning the use of fur, angora, shearling, and karakul, and for committing to eliminate other animal products like mohair. It also has a formal animal welfare policy aligned with Five Freedoms and uses some recycled down.

However, it still uses leather, exotic animal hair, and silk, even if it traces animal products to the first stage of production (farms). It also uses wool and has a policy to source wool from non-mulesed sheep but doesn’t provide any evidence to verify its claims.

Overall rating: It’s a Start

Uniqlo has been rated “It’s a Start” overall, based on research from our expert ratings team here at Good On You. While Uniqlo has set some decent environmental policies in place and has made a start for workers, there’s no evidence it’s providing fair wages, and it still has a lot of work to across the board do before it can be considered a “Good” or “Great” brand.

At the end of the day, Uniqlo is still very much a part of the unsustainable fast fashion industry. Its promotion of “disposable” fashion and constant rotations of new trends and products has a huge environmental impact. An increasing amount of cheap clothing ends up in landfill after a few wears due to these reasons.

The clothing manufacturing process regularly involves the use of toxic dyes, solvents, and pesticides, is responsible for significant carbon emissions, and uses much of the world’s fresh water and land resources. While this is an industry-wide problem, there are more clothes pumped through the system by the fast fashion brands—and it’s not clear the sustainability initiatives of Uniqlo are enough to compensate.

So, while those cheaper price tags may be tempting, they are often a good indicator of the poor quality of the materials. They also highlight that the people making those clothes are working in conditions that, while improving, are not where they should be.

Note that Good On You ratings consider hundreds of issues, and it is not possible to list every relevant issue in a summary of the brand’s performance. For more information, see our How We Rate page and our FAQs.

See the rating.

Good swaps

“Good” and “Great” alternatives to Uniqlo

The Good Tee

Rated: Great
three people standing by the sea in long-sleeved grey and black Fair Trade Organic tops by The Good Tee

Canadian brand The Good Tee is on a mission to be a positive example of responsibly made basics for the whole family, and strives to humanise the fashion industry by producing Fairtrade, GOTS certified fashion, tracing its entire supply chain, and auditing suppliers.

Find its range in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop The Good Tee.

Kuyichi

Rated: Good
People wearing clothing by responsible brand, Kuyichi.

Established in 2001, Kuyichi is the first organic denim brand. With top-scoring labour and environmental ratings, the brand designs durable yet trendy and modern pieces that never go out of style.

Offered in sizes XS-L.

See the rating.

Shop Kuyichi.

Kotn

Rated: Good
two people holding each other, one in a black long sleeved turtleneck and the other in white, both wearing light blue jeans by Kotn

Offers

Kotn – Home Collection

What great dreams are made of. Browse Kotn's range of sheet sets, duvet covers, and comforters crafted from Egyptian cotton and a linen-cotton blend. Enjoy 20% off Kotn's home collection. (Ends: 13 JUN)

Shop now

Certified B Corp Kotn is based in Canada and works with local NGOs on the ground at the Nile Delta to provide every child in their farming communities with quality education, and to help close the gap of low literacy rates amongst communities. With every purchase, not only will you get a beautifully made garment, but you'll also help fund school infrastructure, materials, and salaries for teachers.

Find Kotn in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Kotn.

bleed

Rated: Good
woman wearing bleed clothing

bleed was founded in 2008 by German skateboarder Michael Spitzbarth. bleed's mission is to inspire a sustainable lifestyle that excites and easily integrates into our daily life, by creating ecological, vegan, and fairly produced sports and streetwear.

See the rating.

Shop bleed.

ASKET

Rated: Good
People wearing tops, sweaters, jackets, bottoms and accessories by Asket.

ASKET has been creating timeless wardrobe essentials since 2015 with revolutionary sizing and fair pricing. The brand disregards seasonal collections, cuts out all the middlemen, and only sells directly to you—putting its entire focus on building a single permanent collection.

Find the range in sizes 2XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop ASKET.

LANIUS

Rated: Good
Someone wearing a pink tailored suit jacket and trousers, and someone wearing a colourful sweatshirt and bottoms by LANIUS.

Offers

People wearing beige hoodie and sweatpants, and a blue sweater and orange leggings by LANIUS.

LANIUS – Site-wide (EU)

Shop designs crafted for the future from last season's inspirations, with the return of LANIUS' pop-up outlet. Enjoy an exclusive 50% off. (Available in the EU only) (Ends: 22 MAY)

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“Love fashion, think organic, be responsible” are the maxims of LANIUS. The German brand uses lower-impact materials, like GOTS certified cotton. All LANIUS facilities are SA8000 certified and it is a member of the Fair Wear Foundation.

LANIUS' clothes are available in EU sizes 34-44.

See the rating.

Shop LANIUS.

Yes Friends

Rated: Great

Yes Friends is a UK-based fashion brand that creates more affordable clothing for everyone. Yes Friends' first product, classic cut t-shirts, cost less than £4 to make and the brand only charges £7.99. Using large scale production and direct to consumer margins means Yes Friends can charge you an affordable price for its more responsible clothing.

Find the range inclusively sized in 2XS-4XL.

See the rating.

Shop Yes Friends.

Check out more sustainable alternatives to Uniqlo and our favourite swaps for Uniqlo’s best sellers

We love these more sustainable brands listed above, but they may not meet your specific needs right now. Maybe they’re out of your price range, or don’t stock your size. If you really need something and a product from Uniqlo is the best option, then you shouldn’t feel guilty about buying it. “It’s a Start” means just that—the brand is making a start. Uniqlo is already ahead of comparable brands by creating timeless staples that don’t go out of fashion nearly as fast. And if your options are Uniqlo or a brand like SHEIN that is making little to no effort for people, the planet, and animals, Uniqlo is a clear winner. Progress over perfection.

You can also reach out to brands who you think need a little nudge in the right direction. If enough customers demand change, brands that truly care about their impact will have no choice but to respond in kind. Check out the “Your Voice” function on the app or slide into their DMs on social media to let them know what you think.

Editor's note

Feature image via Unsplash, other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet, and animals. Use our directory to search thousands of rated brands.

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