David Blecken
Sep 20, 2017

How Uniqlo’s positive approach to disability helps its brand

A visibly inclusive hiring and ambassador policy helps set the company apart from competitors, even if that is not a deliberate aim.

Shingo Kuneida
Shingo Kuneida

In a recent conversation with Campaign, Shunsuke Narisawa, a prominent advocate for the integration of people with disabilities into the workplace, singled out Uniqlo as one of Japan’s most disability-friendly companies.

Narisawa is the chairman of FDA, an NPO that aims to improve working conditions and create opportunities for the handicapped. Japanese law requires companies make at least one disabled hire for every 50 employees. But Narisawa said he sees Uniqlo as particularly proactive in its approach.

The company aims to employ a minimum of one disabled person in each of its stores across Japan. A global spokesperson says Uniqlo employs 1,500 people with disabilities worldwide and that the effort has spread to other brands within Fast Retailing, the parent company. A Japanese government-approved ‘job coach’ works with the HR department to help store managers integrate disabled staff as effectively as possible.

Narisawa says the obvious presence of disabled staff in stores is a powerful way of creating good will among customers, especially but by no means exclusively those with disabled family members.

Uniqlo also counts disabled people among its brand ambassadors, which is still disappointingly rare among major corporations. They include the wheelchair tennis players Shingo Kuneida and most recently Gordon Reid, who signed on in July. The spokesperson says all athletes are selected based on their personal attributes and that disability is immaterial. At the same time, the company’s openness to disabled representatives sends an important message of inclusivity.

Equally importantly, Uniqlo draws on the feedback of its ambassadors to improve the design of its products. The spokesperson says their insights are applied to both performance wear that the ambassadors use themselves, and everyday casual wear lines.

Uniqlo does not measure the direct impact of its disability-related programs on brand perception, the spokesperson says, “although we would certainly be interested to know”. “We do believe, however, that customers will recognise these activities as authentic and consistent with Uniqlo values, and so naturally we hope this strengthens the connection between Uniqlo customers and stakeholders everywhere.”

The spokesperson says Uniqlo does not hold a strong point of view on the under-representation of those with disabilities in advertising and marketing generally, but says that in addition to those activities, there is more room for brands to engage the disabled in “socially meaningful programs”. Uniqlo has employed Kuneida in certain sustainability initiatives, for example.

“We also look for ways to support our other ambassadors to make social contributions via Uniqlo in ways that have specific meaning to them personally,” the spokesperson says.

Campaign Japan

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