Uniqlo Airism mask

TOKYO — Fast Retailing said Wednesday that it is strengthening its global partnership with the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, by working together to help people who have been forced to flee their homes during the COVID-19 crisis. The Japanese clothing retailer and Uniqlo parent company will donate a total of 1 million masks to UNHCR country operations in places such as Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Egypt and Iraq. The donations will begin from the end of this month, and the UNHCR will distribute the masks to the most vulnerable refugee families.

The pandemic has increased the humanitarian crisis that already faces the 79.5 million people who have been forced to flee their homes. Many are living in overcrowded settlements where health care, water and sanitation systems are severely strained and access to basic items such as soap can be very limited.

The masks to be donated are Uniqlo’s popular Airism variety, which are washable and reusable. The non-medical grade masks feature two layers of cooling fabric, as well as a built-in filter. The innermost layer of fabric is moisture wicking, while the outer layer blocks 90 percent of UV rays and is rated UPF 40.

“To be able to create a truly sustainable society, Fast Retailing believes that it is essential to secure a safe environment for refugees, the most vulnerable people in the world, and help them to rebuild their lives. We have therefore been providing clothing and other assistance to refugees for over 10 years now in collaboration with UNHCR,” Tadashi Yanai, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Fast Retailing, said in a statement. “While supporting refugees who face the immediate threat of the coronavirus pandemic, we contribute toward finding a longer-term solution to the refugee problem through our apparel business,” he added.

This year marks a decade of Fast Retailing’s global partnership with UNHCR. Through the agreement, the retailer has committed to donating $4.5 million over a three-year period in support of UNHCR’s operations. This includes an in-kind donation of up to 7 million pieces of clothing annually until August 2023.

“When people are forced to flee, they risk losing everything — from their homes and belongings, to their jobs and their identities. COVID-19 further impacts their vulnerable circumstances, generating a crisis on top of an existing emergency. Through Fast Retailing’s longstanding contribution of clothing donations, livelihoods programs and emergency response, refugees have a chance to rebuild their lives and hope for their future,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said in a statement.

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