woman wearing uniqlo t-shirt
19 Jan
woman wearing uniqlo t-shirt

How Ethical Is Uniqlo?

While Uniqlo presents a timeless and high-quality aesthetic, how do its ethics hold up? Here’s why the brand is rated our middling score of “It’s a Start” overall. This article is based on the Uniqlo rating published in July 2020.

Is giant Uniqlo doing enough?

Uniqlo has an easy to wear preppy 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 2021, 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 super cheap 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 uses a few eco-friendly materials. It also has a policy approved by CanopyStyle to manage forestry in its supply chain, and reduces water use in some spots along the way.

While the brand has set a climate change target to reduce emissions in its supply chain, it sadly does not report the progress. On top of this, the target has not yet been accepted as science-based, which means we are unable to determine whether it is line with what the latest climate science says is necessary. That is, to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement⁠ by pursuing efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C. It is also not as transparent about its environmental impact as it could be: while Uniqlo has set some reasonably strong policies, it doesn’t disclose how it is implementing and meeting these policies⁠—we hope there aren’t any other skeletons hiding in Uniqlo’s extensive closet.

Labour conditions

Uniqlo’s labour rating is “Not Good Enough”. It scores 31-40% in the Fashion Transparency Index. The brand traces most of its supply chain including all of the final stage, however, it doesn’t publicly list all of its suppliers. A real disappointment here is that there is no evidence it ensures payment of a living wage, which puts a damper on the fact that the brand disclosed adequate policies to protect suppliers from the impacts of COVID-19 to some extent by fulfilling orders. That being said, we could not find policies to protect workers themselves, such as access to healthcare or plans if there is an outbreak.

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 an ethical company—and it can certainly afford to do so.

Animal welfare

Uniqlo has made a start with animal welfare, but there is still room for improvement. 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 uses non-mulesed wool and Responsible Down Standard down, and has a formal animal welfare policy aligned with Five Freedoms. However, it still uses cashmere and leather without specifying whether it traces animal products to the first stage of production (farms). For animals, we rate Uniqlo “It’s a Start”, with hopes for future improvement.

Overall rating: It’s a start

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

See the rating.

Good swaps

“Good” and “Great” alternatives to Uniqlo

The Good Tee

Rated: Great
two women of colour wearing ethically made fashion 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. Find its range in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop The Good Tee.

Kuyichi

Rated: Great
woman wearing navy kuyichi shirt

Established in 2001, Kuyichi is the first organic denim brand. With ‘Great’ labour and environmental ratings, the brand designs ethical and durable, yet trendy and modern pieces that never go out of style. Sizes XS-L are available.

See the rating.

Shop Kuyichi.

Shop Kuyichi @ Staiy.

MATE the Label

Rated: Great

MATE the Label creates clean essentials made with GOTS certified organic fabrics and low-impact dyes. Its goal is to offer women everywhere a clean product that is just as beautiful as it is sustainable. It is proudly female-founded and is predominately operated by women. This US brand also manufactures locally to reduce its carbon footprint. Find the range in inclusive sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop MATE the Label.

bleed

Rated: Great
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
man wearing black asket t-shirt

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 XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop ASKET.

LANIUS

Rated: Good

Offers

A beige cropped knit sustainably made sweater by LANIUS.

LANIUS – Knits

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An orange athleisure set ethically made by LANIUS.

LANIUS – Athleisure

LANIUS' new athleisure capsule: made from recycled nylon yarn that adapts to the body and gives free rein to your movements. Exclusive 15% off athleisure with code GOODONYOUxLANIUS15. (Available in Europe and the UK only) (Ends: 31 MAY)

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A loose fit pair of light green shorts made responsibly by LANIUS.

LANIUS – Trousers

From classy to flirty, but always responsible: LANIUS pants, jeans, and shorts fit for every occasion. Exclusive 15% off pants with code GOODONYOUxLANIUS15. (Available in Europe and the UK only) (Ends: 31 MAY)

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A white and blue striped t-shirt sustainably made by LANIUS.

LANIUS – Tops

Delicate, minimalist, ethical tops and t-shirts that can be combined in many ways. Exclusive 15% off tops with code GOODONYOUxLANIUS15. (Available in Europe and the UK only) (Ends: 31 MAY)

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A hot pink ethically made puff sleeve mid length dress by LANIUS.

LANIUS – Dresses

Fair and organic fashion with a feminine touch. Noble looks that radiate liveliness. Exclusive 15% off dresses with code GOODONYOUxLANIUS15. (Available in Europe and the UK only) (Ends: 31 MAY)

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“Love Fashion, Think Organic, Be Responsible” are the maxims of LANIUS. The German brand uses eco-friendly 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.

Shop LANIUS @ Curate.

Yes Friends

Rated: Great

Yes Friends is a UK-based fashion brand that creates sustainable, ethical, and 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 sustainable and ethical clothing. Find the range inclusively sized in 2XS-4XL.

See the rating.

Shop Yes Friends.

We love these 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

Images via Uniqlo and 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. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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