Shingo Kunieda

TOKYO — Fast Retailing said Thursday that it has joined the Valuable 500, an initiative that encourages business leaders to champion persons with disabilities. In joining the Valuable 500 community, the Uniqlo parent company has adopted a five-point commitment that supports the initiative’s goals of diversity and inclusion.

While Uniqlo began actively recruiting persons with disabilities in Japan in 2001, Fast Retailing will continue to do this at its stores worldwide, while also providing acceptance training. Both Uniqlo and GU stores in Japan have a target of hiring at least one differently abled person at every store. In addition, Uniqlo was recognized in October 2020 by the New York City Mayor’s Office for People With Disabilities with the Champion of Change Award for its continued commitment to fostering inclusion among its team members.

Another facet of the company’s commitment is the creation of products, services and sales spaces that reflect feedback from disabled or elderly customers. Fast Retailing started this initiative at Uniqlo Japan, and is now expanding it globally.

“Front-open Innerwear, a product line from Uniqlo sold in Japan through its online shop and in select stores, was developed based on feedback from customers who have difficulty putting on or removing pullover clothing,” Fast Retailing said in a release. “Product developers created the line by visiting medical institutions and facilities, and listening to feedback from hospitalized and ambulatory patients, women recovering from breast cancer surgery, persons with disabilities and the elderly.”

In March of last year, Fast Retailing launched a diversity and inclusion website, which it says is an “important corporate activity.”

A message from Fast Retailing’s chairman, president and chief executive officer Tadashi Yanai that is posted to the website calls diversity one of the company’s “most valued principles,” and notes that in order to make clothing that suits everyone in the world, it must be made by a diverse group of people.

“We believe a culture of inclusiveness can engender great respect for each other’s values. This empowers us to learn from each other and to continue innovating and transforming our business for customers,” the statement says.

Perhaps the most significant points of Fast Retailing’s diversity and inclusion commitment are its support for sports programs for differently abled people and its support for the disabled in local communities. Uniqlo has been an official partner of Special Olympics Nippon since 2002, donating uniforms for athletes and volunteer staff, as well as assisting with competition operations. Uniqlo Taiwan has a similar program, and Uniqlo has been a title sponsor of the Wheelchair Tennis Tour since 2014. Wheelchair tennis athletes Shingo Kunieda and Gordon Reid also serve as global brand ambassadors for Uniqlo, and the brand is the official clothing partner of the Swedish Paralympic teams.

Fast Retailing initiatives that support disabled persons in local communities include a program launched by Uniqlo in South Korea in 2019, in which the brand donated approximately 6,000 items of clothing to some 1,200 individuals with cerebral palsy. The clothes had been customized to be easier to put on and remove. In addition, Uniqlo Singapore has supported a school offering vocational training to students with mild intellectual disabilities since 2017.

The Valuable 500 was launched at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in 2019. Other member companies include Google, Calvin Klein, BBC, L’Oréal, Tommy Hilfiger, Kurt Geiger and Virgin Atlantic. Several Japanese companies have also signed on, including All Nippon Airlines, Dentsu, Fujitsu, Kao Corp., Sony, Urban Research and others.