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Free Uniqlo Heattech causes online backlash

Nov 20,2019
Uniqlo is giving away clothing, and some Koreans are upset.

Anyone making a purchase at the Japanese chain is given a free piece of Heattech clothing in a promotion that runs through Thursday.

In the giveaway, which started last Friday, 100,000 “original” Heattech long tops and bottoms are being distributed to customers. The original grade is the thinnest of the three thicknesses sold by the brand.

While lines were reported to form for the freebies, online comments suggest a degree of concern about the event.

Due to the ongoing dispute between Japan and Korea related to disagreements over the compensation of forced labor during World War II, Japanese and Japan-related establishments have encountered resistance from consumers, which has been described as a boycott.

Uniqlo has been especially targeted after Chief Financial Officer Takeshi Okazaki said the impact of the boycott in Korea would be short-lived.

While some people online argue that lining up for a freebie is a matter of individual choice, others have argued against participating.

“Let’s have a minimal level of self-pride,” wrote Prof. Seo Kyoung-duk from Sungshin Women’s University on his Facebook page on Tuesday, who added that Koreans should rethink accepting the free items.

“If you truly respect the freedom of an individual, you shouldn’t speak in such way,” a commenter responded.

Uniqlo said this isn’t the first time it has distributed promotional items. Last year, it gave out 20,000 pieces of Airism clothing to people who took part in a survey. Airism is a quick-drying stretchy material.

“Giving out freebies is a normal business strategy sometimes adopted by companies experiencing weak sales,” said Seo Yong-gu, a professor of business at Sookmyung Women’s University. “The recent controversy is a dilemma between morality and the instinct to earn freebies. The boycott against Uniqlo is expected to last quite some time. Unlike in the past when shopping used to be a mere economic act of purchasing, it has now become a social act that people share with others on social networks.”

BY JIN MIN-JI [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]