Why do we need The Fashion Act?
Fashion is a $2.5 trillion industry without a single binding regulation. The industry is responsible for between 4 and 8.6% of the world’s global greenhouse gas footprint –– more than France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined. Left unchecked, the industry will be responsible for more than a quarter of the world’s global carbon budget by 2050. Fast fashion companies have accelerated the negative climate impacts, and we cannot remain inactive any longer.
Chemicals used in the garment industry are filling waterways with toxic waste, harming communities and ecosystems. In addition to poor chemical stewardship, the fashion industry relies on exploited labor. Workers (the majority of whom are women of color in the global south) are routinely exploited, underpaid, and subject to sexual abuse in the course of their work. According to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs, the apparel industry is a leading industry of exploited and child labor.
What is The Fashion Act and why should we care about it?
Little by little, climate and humanitarian advocates are capturing the attention of our legislators. Activists around America are involved in pushing forward new bills to help regulate the fashion industry. Passion Lilie is here to break down one of the most popular new bills and explain how and why we should replicate it in other states.
What is The Fashion Act?
The New York Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act (A8352/S7428), better known as The Fashion Act, is a bill that is currently pending in the New York State Senate Consumer Protection Committee. If the law is passed, it will require any fashion retailer or manufacturer doing business in NY state to disclose their environmental and social supply chain due diligence policies, and it will establish a community benefit fund with money collected from fines and penalties.
The Fashion Act would make New York the first state in the U.S. to hold accountable those brands who generate more than $100 million annually – this includes brands of all types, from fast fashion to the highest of haute couture.
So, what does The Fashion Act actually do?
If passed, the Fashion Act would require companies to document the greenhouse gas emissions, chemical management, energy consumption, and water and material usage throughout the entirety of their supply chain. The ultimate goal is to reduce these levels to align with The Paris Agreement. In a nutshell, The Paris Agreement is a legally binding agreement between 193 states and the European Union. It sets long-term goals to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius.
The Fashion Act uses Science Based Targets (SBTs) which are 5–10-year targets that set the pace for companies to reduce their emissions to meet the standards of The Paris Agreement. SBTs are the global standard for carbon management, and more than 3,000 businesses have committed to using the system. According to TheFashionAct.org, “Using science-based standards moves industry from storytelling competitions to a common definition of ambition. The SBT translates complex science into real-world corporate climate targets.”
The Fashion Act requires companies in New York to set and achieve Science Based Targets as a minimum, with room to expand regulations should the SBTs prove insufficient. By putting The Fashion Act into law, all companies that fit the criteria would be held to the same standard. As it stands now, companies are disincentivized from taking action because being eco and labor friendly comes at a cost. Paying fair wages and reducing the carbon footprint of their products requires companies to increase their prices, thereby losing market share to their competitors. If all competitors are held to the same regulations, it becomes easier for more businesses to work toward sustainability.
The consequences of failing to achieve their SBTs are financial penalties that will be collected by the state’s attorney general and added to an environmental protection fund. The Natural Resources Defense Council explains, “If companies fail to meet their SBTs, they could be fined up to 2% of their annual revenues. For a company as big as, say, Shein, which raked in $30 billion last year, that would be roughly $600 million.”
What are The Fashion Act’s main goals?
- Supply chain mapping and transparency: Human rights violations are rampant throughout the fashion industry’s supply chains. The Fashion Act requires reporting with increasing detail each year, so that companies will be required to embed responsible business conduct into policies and management systems, and reduce potential adverse impacts to people and the environment. The law also provides a way for people who have been negatively impacted by companies and their supply chains to seek justice.
- Annual environmental and social sustainability reporting: Companies will be required to be more transparent – publishing an annual report detailing how they have acted to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for environmental and social risks.
- Impact disclosures – Companies must provide a report detailing (1) quantitative baseline and reductions targets on energy and GHG emissions, (2) annual volume of materials produced, (3) median wages of workers of prioritized suppliers and how this compares with local living wages, (4) a plan for incentivizing supplier performance with respect to workers' rights.
- Community Benefit Fund – This fund will be created through the penalties collected from companies that do not comply with The Fashion Act. Money collected will be used for environmental justice-related community projects.
What’s the timeline for The Fashion Act?
The Fashion Act is not a new piece of legislation. It was first introduced in October 2021 and has since been amended and strengthened into its current iteration. New York’s legislative session ends in June, so our hope is that it will be delivered to the governor before the session concludes.
Why is this bill only in New York state, not everywhere?
Because of the intensely polarized political environment in our country, progressive states are leading the charge on projects fighting climate change. In New York, where most legislators are progressive leaning, bills like The Fashion Act have a much higher chance of being passed. Then, as other states see the impact and success of the law, they may follow suit.
Additionally, New York City is one of the four most prominent fashion capitals of the world. It makes sense that the state of New York should pave the way for fashion standards in the US. California’s vehicle pollution standards legislation has provided a model for the Fashion Act. It revolutionized the auto industry by setting regulations that are stricter than the federal ones. Sixteen states have followed California’s lead, and now 40% of the US market has clean car standards. As a result, federal standards have also been raised to ensure that all Americans have access to safer vehicles.
Our hope is that once the New York Fashion Act is passed, other states will bring forth similar legislation ultimately leading to more stringent federal regulations.
What can we do to help?
Start by visiting https://www.thefashionact.org/home/#takeaction. There you can add your name to supporters of The Fashion Act alongside other folks you might know like Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, and Zooey Deschanel. You can also share on your social networks to help the movement gain awareness. You may be surprised how much of an impact you can make, no matter how many followers you have. The Fashion Act website has scripts and suggested content to make it as easy as possible to share. If you’re in New York, reach out to your legislators and voice your support for The Fashion Act. Finally, if you’re a fashion company or civil society organization interested in joining as a supporter of The Fashion Act, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.
We hope this information about The Fashion Act is helpful. Reach out to us if you want to talk more about it, and get involved in moving it forward. Every voice matters!