Photographs by Imran Amed and Daro Sulakauri Getty Images
After a few weeks since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order for their armed forces to invade Ukraine, Russia’s efforts to acquire Ukraine – an attempt to recreate the now-dissolved Soviet Union – have led to numerous human rights violations and countless deaths, resulting in condemnation from several countries including the United States. As with most of the world, fashion companies are currently scrambling to react to the growing number of sanctions on Russia placed by the U.S. and European countries. Many companies have opted to temporarily cease their operations in Russia, citing a variety of reasons (e.g. humanitarian concerns, trade restrictions, limited shipping availability). On the other hand, there is still reluctance from some companies to make a statement regarding their course of action in denouncing Russia’s actions. This recent news raises the ethical question: should fashion companies structure their business model based on their moral obligations rather than prioritize maximum economic gain?
Although there was initially little to no response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, fashion companies have been pressured by consumers to take action in denouncing Russia’s myriad of human rights violations. When the concern of the Russia-Ukraine crisis emerged, fashion week in Paris and Milan were ongoing, and Giorgio Armani was one of the only designers who acknowledged the humanitarian crisis through a silent show. As the situation in Ukraine escalated, more brands felt the pressure to pause their operations in Russia, especially after FedEx and UPS suspended all shipments to Russia. Notably, Uniqlo, a Japanese retail clothing company, was one of the only companies that adamantly refused to take a stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Tadashi Yanai, the president of Fast Retailing Co., the parent company of Uniqlo, previously asserted that “clothing is a necessity of life. The people of Russia have the same right to live as we do.” However, once more consumers began to take more notice of Uniqlo’s refusal to take a moral stance on this news, Uniqlo backtracked their previous comments and announced that they would pause their operations in Russia. This further showcases how influential consumers’ desire to shop for fashion brands with socially conscious values, especially as fashion brands become more political and socially active. Additionally, some brands have also pledged donations and a percentage of their profits to the Ukrainian humanitarian crisis, such as LVMH – a luxury fashion conglomerate that has already donated five million euros to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there have been approximately two million Ukrainians who have fled their native country, resulting in the United Nations deeming this as the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II. In addition to ceasing operations in Russia and contributing towards Ukrainian humanitarian aid, fashion companies should look to help Ukraine by also offering more open positions for Ukrainian refugees. Creating more employment opportunities for these displaced persons allow for more long-term support as they accustom themselves to the new environment and reclaim control of their lives. As Russia continues to invade Ukraine and commit a multitude of human rights violations, it is imperative that the fashion industry takes substantial action to help Ukraine instead of relying on performative social media posts to appease consumers.