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Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011

Fast Retailing partners with UNHCR to clothe refugees


Staff writer

Fast Retailing Co. and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced Wednesday they have established a partnership to assist refugees and displaced people around the world through the distribution of recycled Uniqlo clothing.

The agreement also states that Fast Retailing will start an internship program at its domestic Uniqlo shops for those who have been recognized as refugees in Japan.

This agreement marks the first time the UNHCR has established such ties with a Japanese company. Globally, the UNHCR has concluded such agreements with companies that include Microsoft Corp. and Nike Inc., making Fast Retailing the sixth company in the world to do so.

Johan Cels, UNHCR representative in Japan, explained during a news conference the importance of the cooperation with Fast Retailing.

"If people don't have clothing, life is very difficult," Cels said, adding that the lack of clothing makes it difficult for refugees to go out and find jobs or attend school, and that some fall victim to sexual violence. "Clothing is . . . about dignity, it's about hope for a better life."

In emergency cases, the UNHCR provides, shelter, food, water and medical assistance, but very seldom clothing, Cels said.

Under the Global Partnership Agreement, recycled clothing from Fast Retailing's Uniqlo and g.u. stores will be distributed to refugees and displaced people around the world, a figure estimated to be around 36 million.

In June, the company will begin hiring refugees in Japan as interns. In a reciprocal move, employees at Fast Retailing will participate in a six-month internship at the UNHCR starting in September.

According to Yukihiro Nitta, director of corporate social responsibility at Uniqlo, no limit has been set for the number of refugees who can participate in the internships, which are estimated to last about one month.

Cels explained after the news conference that the organization had a strict screening process for companies that wish to launch a partnership pact.

The UNHCR has been working together with Fast Retailing since around 2006 and has already distributed 1.7 million pieces of clothing to refugees in countries including Thailand, Lebanon, Nepal, Uganda, Georgia and Pakistan.

"We believe that clothing makes people happy and that it has the power to make the world a better place," said Tadashi Yanai, chairman and president of Fast Retailing, in a statement read out at the news conference, which he couldn't attend.



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