New York State policymakers Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assembly Member Dr. Anna Kelles introduced the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act (S7428 / A08352), known more familiarly as the Fashion Act, in October.
In short, the Fashion Act aims to keep fashion’s multinational corporations — those with more than $100 million in global revenues and doing business in New York — accountable. Companies that fall under the Act’s purview would be required to map 50 percent of their supply chain (from the farms they draw their raw materials from to the factories that cut and sew their garments). Environmental and social responsibility criteria (like greenhouse gas emissions or median wages) will also need to be summed up in reports — and all within an 18-month timeline if the bill passes.
Although in its still in its early stages, many believe the bill has potential. Sen. Biaggi called the bill “historic in the U.S.,” emphasizing there has never before been legislation introduced to regulate and address the harms caused by the fashion industry in such a “comprehensive” way.
What It Does
Companies will have to report on their biggest impact areas — across everything from emissions, energy, water and plastic use to chemical management — and outline what they’re going to do to lessen them, a form of social due diligence.
As it’s currently written, greenhouse gas emissions reporting, for one, would be required to conform to the universal environmental accounting standards set forth in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Standard and the GHG Protocol Scope 3 Standard. The world-recognized standard helps companies set targets, identify, calculate and report their GHG emissions around three areas: Scope 1 (company facilities and vehicles), purchased activities (like electricity) or Scope 2 and indirect emissions or Scope 3 (including all upstream activities where the majority of impact lies).
When it comes to social due diligence, that, according to the bill, encompasses “the process companies should carry out to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address actual and potential adverse impacts in their own operations, their supply chain and other business relationships.” This translates to how companies are incentivizing suppliers to advance worker rights (including contract renewals, price premiums and longer-term contracts). Due diligence protocol would align with the United Nations guiding principles for business and human rights and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development outline for responsible business conduct. Companies would also have to disclose median worker wages.
Given that New York City’s annual textile waste towers as high as the Empire State Building, according to the Sanitation Foundation, companies would also have to disclose their material use, including type. 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.”
What It Doesn’t Do
Some stakeholders worry the bill needs work.
Labor and reuse groups banded together to express support, in a series of letters sent to the legislators last month, identifying further elements — like tightened disclosure enforcements and a “circularity hierarchy” which expands outside simply recycling as a means to an end — for consideration.
Addressing the need for joint-liability, “Our primary concern is that the Fashion Act focuses primarily on disclosure. As such, brands will only be held accountable for failures to report, not failures to actively identify, prevent, mitigate and account for adverse impacts on people and planet on an ongoing basis, as set out by the U.N. Guiding Principles and OECD Guidelines and Guidance. It furthermore places no requirements on companies to provide for or cooperate in remediation for harms they cause or contribute to where appropriate. Liability, likewise, is only for failure to report,” said a letter from 20 labor rights groups, among them Remake, Custom Collaborative, Fashion Revolution, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre and Human Rights Watch among others.
Meanwhile, a group of 28 reuse sector advocates — among them Circular Services Group, The OR Foundation, ThredUp, Intersectional Environmentalist and The Renewal Workshop — penned support but appealed for further considerations like a “circularity hierarchy” defined as a new paradigm based on lifecycle analysis on the next best use of resources by the World Resources Institute and “reparation funds that would be committed to global communities most socially and environmentally harmed by the fashion industry’s textile waste,” per the letter.
Regardless of the elements it currently espouses, the groups, as well as the initial supporting organizations, have underlined their commitment and support for the Fashion Act.
As Sen. Biaggi mentioned in an email interview with WWD, stakeholder engagement on all sides is necessary to ensure the strongest version of the Fashion Act materializes, so critics are welcome. WWD confirmed conversations are underway between groups.
Where It Stands
At the start of the legislative season, the bill was met with much support.
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, are among the initial supporters.
The bill currently resides in the state’s Consumer Protection Committee in the Senate and the Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee in the Assembly, with potential to route through other committees as well, especially on the Assembly side where additional review is common. Once the bill passes through Committee in either house, it will then be brought to the floor for a vote. The legislature convenes in Albany from January to June, with June as the end-cap to the regular season.
Sen. Biaggi stressed stakeholder engagement has been built into the Fashion Act from the start.
“From the very origin of this bill, we set out to ensure this legislation drives the most positive change for the people most impacted by the fashion industry, and since introducing the bill, we have been so grateful for the attention and input we’ve received from so many groups,” she said. “We have been in continuous discussion with stakeholders from all sides — labor rights and environmental advocates, legal experts, fashion industry and business leaders, and manufacturers and brands — to ensure that we can advance the strongest and most transformative piece of legislation possible.
In the legislative process, it’s very common and necessary for bill language to be amended between its introduction and passage, so I welcome any and all conversations with necessary stakeholders to improve this bill. From its inception, I have been working with the New Standard Institute to build a wide-reaching coalition of all stakeholders. If we are to enact real change in the field, then we must have buy-in from all stakeholders to develop the most transformative legislation possible, and I am committed to that.”
Where It’s Going
Why is the Fashion Act something to watch?
Citing fashion’s estimated 4 percent to 8.6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, Sen. Biaggi decried the industry’s nefariousness “for its exploitative and harmful labor practices around the world,” and believes it can no longer go unchecked.
“This bill has the power to change that, and would transform the fashion industry into one that prioritizes environmental and labor justice — substantially reducing carbon emissions globally and making a direct impact on communities across the globe, including in my own district, in the Bronx. Ultimately, I hope that this legislation not only sets a precedent for other states to follow suit, but for our nation at large. If the U.S. is to tackle climate change head on, we must ensure that our business practices and regulations, no matter the industry, are made with environmental justice in mind,” she added.
“We have the power to make history and set an example — not just for the $2.5 trillion fashion industry,” Sen. Biaggi said. “The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act can also serve as a model for the future of how we do business — with profit, people and planet in mind.”