“If persons with disabilities can run our stores…”

Jason, who has intellectual disability, works at Uniqlo Ion. Gallery

Mr Masaki Goto of Uniqlo believes that contributing to the lives of persons with disabilities means more than just donating money or clothes to them. Enabling them to engage with society in a deeper manner will be more beneficial to them.

True to his philosophy, besides back room jobs, employees with disabilities of the major Japanese clothing chain are placed in front line jobs, interacting directly with and serving customers – a role most would not expect them to do.

In an expression of true equal opportunity, Mr Goto, who is in store operations support, said: “We treat our employees with disabilities just like our non-disabled staff. If they prefer to communicate with customers at the sales floor, we will support them to be on the sales floor.”

In fact, it has become quite common for stores to integrate employees with disabilities into everyday work, as they do a variety of duties such as unpacking items, delivering them to the sales floor and serving customers.

According to Mr Goto, Uniqlo has created a basic training system for all staff, and the 19 employees with disabilities across its outlets are also using the same training manual and evaluation check sheets. They are also briefed to ensure that they understand their duties clearly before starting work, a daily practice which the clothing line has instituted. “Hiring and integrating persons with special needs allows our staff to understand what our company’s philosophy is. We should not just donate money or clothes,” he said.

In line with this vision, Uniqlo recently collaborated with Community Chest and Asian Women’s Welfare Association to participate in a pilot programme to give brand new clothing to underprivileged students in special education school. This will eventually be introduced to Uniqlo stores in other countries. “We would like to give students an opportunity to carry out day-to-day activities, such as shopping, and at the same time let them have fun with our clothes,” said Mr Goto.

It is the personal goal of Mr Goto to be able to have employees with disabilities run the stores. Currently, the chain collaborates with Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) to hire students. “This is my ultimate target. If persons with disabilities can run our stores, it would be quite amazing,” he said.