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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.
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.
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.
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.
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