On January 7, the Fashion Act Bill was introduced in the state of New York by the Act on Fashion Coalition, along with designer Stella McCartney. This is set to be a turning point within the fashion industry’s journey towards reducing its environmental and social impact. The bill is co-sponsored by multiple senators and supported by a handful of organizations.
With the clothing and footwear industry accounting for a notable part of the climate crisis, making up about 4 to 8.6% of the world’s greenhouse gas footprint, there comes a need for better and more controlled regulations. Currently, there are no legally binding environmental standards that impact the fashion industry, and with the continuous growth of fast fashion brands, such as Shein and Boohoo in China and the UK, the impact of the industry is only increasing.
Essentially, this sector is living in a regulatory vacuum, and if this continues as is, its impact will increase to be responsible for more than a quarter of the world’s global carbon budget by 2050. New York state has also introduced a target of reducing its emissions by 2050.
Besides the environmental impact, the fashion industry also has plenty of labor practices issues. According to the Department of Labor, the sector is a leading industry of exploited and child labor all over the world. Since New York’s establishment as a global fashion capital, it was its female garment workers working with wealthy elites that lead the early labor movement, aiding in the creation of the national safety standards and basic protections, like the concept of the weekend.
The goal is to require active monitoring and risk assessment plans, shifting the sector away from the tragic race to the bottom that ended up leading to the Rana Plaza Building collapse in Bangladesh.
The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act aims to create a foundation for clear, relevant, common and transparent environmental accounting and disclosures. Establish mandatory science-based targets, mandatory due diligence, meaningful labor disclosures, and guarantee the enforcement of these measures. These provisions are coming into place with the ultimate goal of making New York the leader in corporate accountability and environmental justice.
Under the bill, all apparel and footwear retailers with global revenue of at least $100 million USD selling its products in New York State would be required to map their supply chains, disclose environmental and social impacts, and set binding targets to reduce those impacts. Companies will also be required to disclose their material use, by material type and the wages of workers. Noncompliant companies will be required to pay fines, the revenue of which will fund projects specifically for New York’s environmental justice communities.
This bill is a much-needed accountability check for the fashion industry, and there have been calls from the sector itself for such regulations to be put in place. It also serves to level the playing field within the industry since the lack of regulation means that brands that want to do right by the environment and its workers are often put at a competitive disadvantage due to increased costs in comparison to companies that haven’t made such commitments. By creating legally binding standards this imbalance won’t exist anymore.
“Fashion is one of the most harmful industries and least policed,” said Stella McCartney. “Sadly, the idea of us self-regulating [is] not a fair thing to ask of an industry. We need to be helped. If we could just have some regulation, some policies, some [standardized] methods to measure our impact.”
While the proposal alone is already an exciting step in the right direction, getting legislation passed isn’t as simple. Now that it has been introduced, it is necessary that it is passed. While it can take years to pass legislation like this, there is hope that this bill will be voted in by the end of the 2022 legislative session in June.
It will surely be interesting to see how this bill will impact the industry in the long run once it is hopefully approved. Not only at a the New York State level, but on an international scale.
If you live in New York you can reach out to your legislative representative and tell them to vote for this bill. You can find more information on how to help at newstandardinstitute.org.