There’s a new bill in town, and it’s called the “Fashion Act.”
Sustainability advocacy coalition Act on Fashion (which comprises a number of organizations), designer Stella McCartney and New York State policymakers Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assembly Member Dr. Anna Kelles referred the Fashion Act, or the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act (S7428), to the state’s consumer protection committee on Wednesday.
While the bill was formally introduced to the Senate in October, it has since gathered a slew of industry supporters, which means more eyes on its advancements.
Bill supporters under the Act on Fashion Coalition include New Standard Institute; the Natural Resources Defense Council; Environmental Advocates New York; New York Communities for Change; South Asian Fund for Education Scholarship and Training, or SAFEST; Ferrara Manufacturing; EarthDay.org; Oceanic; Uprose, and the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.
A press conference is slated for today, but the gist of the bill is to make New York, already a global fashion capital and the world’s 10th largest economy, liable for the industry’s environmental and social injustice. Under New York State law, any apparel or footwear company doing business in New York that has annual global revenues of $100 million would be “required to map their supply chains, disclose environmental and social impacts, and set binding targets to reduce those impacts,” per the bill background brief, according to the latest science-based targets. Emissions reporting would align with the Paris Agreement and The Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Standard, including the GHG Protocol Scope 3 Standard (or a company’s indirect emissions).
Additionally, companies would have to disclose their material use, including type and the worker wages. For any noncompliant companies, fines would be instilled to the tune of 2 percent of their annual revenues going forth to fund “projects specifically for New York’s environmental justice communities.”
These efforts, the bill supposes, would solidify New York as a global sustainability leader, and if it mirrors the insatiable grassroots campaign of SB62 (the Garment Worker Protection Act that passed in California in September), then it very well could.
Kerry Bannigan, founder of the Conscious Fashion Campaign, told WWD that the bill “could provide a groundbreaking road map for apparel and footwear companies to incorporate true accountability regarding social and environmental due diligence,” reiterating that government-backed proposed measures must ensure that the necessary education and infrastructure is in place given the millions of people swayed in fashion’s value chain.
Last year, a similar narrative was erected with earnest attempts to turn fashion into a more regulated industry with the proposals of high-ranking officials (with names like “fashion czar” or “garment trade adjudicator”), but nothing thus far has materialized.
Ahead of the launch, conversations with sources revealed a sentiment that the bill is unlikely to pass, due to industry counter-lobbying, however powerful it could be. But anything is possible in a world where sustainability is the new table stakes.
Citing the “staggering” 4 to 8.6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions of a yet “unchecked” industry, Assembly Member Dr. Anna Kelles, the prime assembly sponsor of the bill determined “it is essential that we ensure industries are practicing ethical standards in labor and environmental sustainability while at the same time ensuring a thriving statewide fashion industry.…The Fashion Act is good for the environment, good for workers, good for industry, and good for New York, the world’s fashion capital.”
Meanwhile, France is past just talking about sustainability with Jan. 1 marking its pioneering anti-waste and circular economy law (which was passed in 2020) into full effect.
Fashion is a global industry, and while some sustainability experts fear disjointed laws that could cause confusion down the line, today’s lack of regulation may be worse.
“Fashion is one of the most harmful industries and least policed. 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,” the designer Stella McCartney commented, in a statement supporting the Fashion Act.
Stella McCartney has been an outspoken activist, inviting members of Extinction Rebellion to take part in her fall 2019 campaign while staging a guerrilla activation for animal rights (and faux fur) in partnership with the Humane Society last year, among other efforts.
Enforcement for the proposed bill would go to the attorney general, which is Letitia James, the first woman of color to hold statewide office in New York and the first woman to be elected attorney general, or her designated administrator.
James has a track record as being harsh over deceptive business practices, including violations of human rights, environmental laws and scams targeting immigrants. During her decade serving the 35th Council District in Brooklyn in the New York City Council, she pushed through a revolutionary recycling package (including a new clothing/textile recycling program), marking a clear a alignment between her would-be duties if the bill passed.
Maxine Bédat, director of the New Standard Institute, a fashion sustainability think tank and organizer of the upcoming press conference, underscored the opportunity ahead, adding that “New Yorkers have a powerful role to play” in ensuring industries act ethically.
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