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Fast Retailing's Uniqlo pulls ad in South Korea amid backlash

Fast Retailing Co. Ltd.'s flagship brand Uniqlo has stopped airing a television advertisement in South Korea after it was criticized by viewers for allegedly attempting to ridicule victims of wartime sex enslavement and forced labor, The Korea Herald reported Oct. 20, citing a company statement.

According to the report, the ad showed a 13-year-old fashion designer asking an elderly woman how she dressed when she was young, to which the woman said: "I can't remember that far back." The version that aired with Korean subtitles reportedly showed the reply as: "Oh my god, how can I remember what happened more than 80 years ago?"

The brand was accused of mocking those who were forced into labor and sexual servitude during Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, the newspaper said.

The 15-second ad began airing on Korean television on Oct. 15 and was pulled by Fast Retailing from its Youtube channel and other public channels on Oct. 18.

"The advertisement in question is a part of global advertisement series to mark the 25th anniversary of fleece and it has no links to any political or religious agendas, belief or organizations, but we decided to stop airing the ad as we take it seriously that many people felt uncomfortable," the fashion retailer reportedly said.

The Korea Herald said the company initially dismissed the criticism of the ad as a "rumor," saying the campaign only wanted to highlight the age difference between the two people in the ad.

The development comes amid political tensions between the two countries. Fast Retailing in July apologized to its customers in South Korea after CFO Takeshi Okazaki told analysts and reporters, in response to a question, that the boycott of Japanese goods in South Korea would not last long.

"The actual intent of these remarks was to assert that Fast Retailing will continue to do what it has been doing without any change, which is to continue to make a sincere effort to provide quality goods and services and that, since the company has received continued support in South Korea for many years, it hopes the effects will not last long," the company said in July.

In its recent earnings release announcing its fiscal full-year 2019 results, Fast Retailing said it experienced a slump in revenue and profit in South Korea due to "sluggish sales of spring ranges during cool season and boycotts in July [and] August."

As of Oct. 21, US$1 was equivalent to ¥108.56.