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.
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.
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.
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 FAQs. While 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.
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