Uniqlo provides a huge range of products from different styles and fashion trends. It remains a leading fashion company that has a global supply chain and impact. Personally, I like their clothes and the styles they put out, but it’s important for me—a consumer—to know what I consume. Uniqlo is starting to embrace environmental and social sustainability, but it has a lot left to do. It’s been great to see what they are targeting for their environmental goals, but the history of wage theft and the lack of a guarantee of living wages in their supply chain are disheartening.
As consumers, we should demand that the brands we use and love become more sustainable, especially when they operate on a global scale. Uniqlo is starting to answer to the rising demands and wants of consumers, but it still has a long way to go.
This Uniqlo shirt is made from 53% cotton and 47% polyester. Starting off with polyester, this fabric is a type of plastic that is commonly used in the fashion industry. It is the third most commonly used plastic behind polyethylene for plastic bottles and polypropylene used for ropes and stationary. Unfortunately, polyester is not biodegradable, and considering its wide usage throughout the world this leads to an immense amount of environmental waste. Polyester takes 20 to 200 years to decompose, so it’s essentially here to stay if it’s thrown out. Moreover, polyester is derived from petroleum, which leads to further use of the oil manufacturing industry that is the world’s largest contributor of pollution. In addition to its inherent manufacturing harms, polyester dyes are not sustainable as they are insoluble in water, leading to water waste and water toxicity, and polyester manufacturing is both energy and water-intensive.
Moving onto this shirt’s second material, cotton is another water-intensive crop. High levels of irrigation lead to both inefficient water usage and pollutions from pesticides. In addition, the production of cotton leads to water contamination from chemicals in the manufacturing process. Further, the cotton industry has repeatedly been linked to forced labor and child slavery.
Without Uniqlo disclosing the exact suppliers of these materials and which materials it uses (i.e organic or recycled materials), it is safe to say that the composition of this shirt is very unsustainable and unethical.
Uniqlo has a code of conduct for its suppliers and supply chain, which is a great start because this will hold Uniqlo to a higher standard of who its partners and works with. However, one terrible missing piece from this code of conduct is guaranteeing a livable wage. Uniqlo also does not release information on all of its partners and suppliers; therefore, it is impossible to accurately rate Uniqlo for its specific factories.
Uniqlo does not typically use recycled materials, with virgin fabrics being the main source for all of its products. This leads to increased waste as fabrics are not being reused, but Uniqlo has released a recycling and reuse program to start its sustainable practices—more on this below.
Moving on to labor conditions, Uniqlo does not have a stellar past. Aforementioned, Uniqlo does not guarantee a living wage for its supply chain. It has been involved in a $5.5 million wage theft case in Indonesia where workers were never paid severance pay.
Uniqlo makes timeless pieces, which can lead to increased wear without having to toss products after the fashion trend passes. This is a great aspect as it leads to increased use and less overturn. Regarding its sustainability policies and processes, Uniqlo has launched RE.UNIQLO, which is their recycling, reuse, and reduce program where they will recycle used garments and transform them into new products. They also claim to work with NGOs to distribute wearable used clothing to refugees, disaster victims, and others in need. Moreover, Uniqlo has a policy to manage forestry in its supply chain and reduce water use along the way. Uniqlo has also created a program for reducing water use in its denim-making process. They have reduced water use by up to 99% in their denim finishing processes as well.
Uniqlo has begun releasing Sustainability Reports regarding its climate change target to reduce emissions, waste, and sustainability in its supply chain; however, some important aspects of its supply chain are not reported on. Further, Uniqlo does not release all important information for its sustainable goals, making it difficult to get a full understanding of what it is doing and how they are measuring up against its goals.