How a Fashion Bill Becomes a Law
Fashion is dirty business. Facts and figures abound that prove how objectively harmful the industry is to the planet and its people. Maybe you’ve even seen the statistics yourself: between 4 and 8.6% of total global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the clothing and footwear sectors, sectors largely made up of women and closely linked to child labor and forced labour.
We can recite these data points until we’re blue in the face (which, at Fashionista, we often do). But still, we often wonder where that leaves real systemic change, the kind that is needed to make some semblance of a difference in the future – or rather, to ensure there will be a livable future at all.
According to experts, the most convincing solution lies in our policy.
“It’s wonderful if people on an individual level want to hold themselves accountable, but it shouldn’t stop there,” Tori Curbelo, program director and co-founder of advocacy organization Fashion of Tomorrow, told Fashionista in June. “Where are our legislators? Where is the government?
In Europe, new regulations are emerging to do just that, with government agencies introducing significant industry-wide oversight of its production, waste and working practices. Perhaps the most important is the recent French anti-waste law which prohibits the destruction of unsold clothes, with the threat of fines of up to 15,000 euros. The European Union, meanwhile, is waging its own direct affront to the fast fashion machine, demanding that textiles sold in Europe be more durable and easier to repair.
So where does the United States come in? To date, no framework holds domestic fashion companies accountable for their supply chains. The closest thing we have to concrete policy is a law called SB-62, which was passed in September to make California the first state to penalize manufacturers and brands for labor violations, such as the wage theft and illegal wage practices. It’s a big deal, of course, but while it serves as a very positive example for apparel industries across the country, the law is still local.
Then, in January, a coalition led by New York State policymakers Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblywoman Dr. Anna Kelles announced its Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, known more simply as under the name Fashion Act. Like SB-62, the legislation seeks to hold the biggest fashion companies — those with more than $100 million in global revenue and doing business in New York — accountable for environmental and social issues. This encompasses US-based companies like Gap Inc., Tapestry and Capri Holdings, as well as, above all, international brands, from fast fashion to luxury. If passed, the bill’s influence would be seismic, affecting every rung of the industry supply chain ladder, not just in the United States, but perhaps even across world.
In practice, the Fashion Act seeks to enact what the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights call a mandatory due diligence framework, which has already gained a foothold in Europe. Under the new regulations, companies will be responsible not only for disclosing their main areas of social and environmental impact, but also for defining their strategies to reduce them.
What’s in the Fashion Act?
The Fashion Act is a law of weight, with an equally noble objective. To make it more digestible for lawmakers and businesses, Maxine Bédat, executive director of think and “do” tank New Standard Institute, said drafters separated the bill into three distinct parts. First, the bill would require companies to declare at least 50% of their supply chains, starting with the farms from which they source their raw materials to the suppliers they partner with for their shipment. and their distribution.
Second, brands would be responsible for setting new goals and then defining strategies to achieve those milestones. In the case of climate-related issues (such as emissions, energy and chemicals management), all action plans must be consistent with the science-based targets set out in the Paris Agreement. Anything beyond these marks would be against the law. As Bédat explains, it’s not that companies don’t support these goals, it’s just that they are not on track to achieve them.
“Making this a legal requirement will definitely kick-start this work between brands and their suppliers,” says Bédat. “There are big celebrations of the goals for 2050. But if you’re not really on your way and we won’t know until 2050, it’s too late.”
Bédat literally means that. The latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – published a few days before my conversation with Bédat – is dire: global emissions must peak by 2025 to even have a chance of reaching the goals defined in the Paris Agreement.
The Fashion Act is also about work. The brands would be tasked with disclosing workers’ median wages and then fined for non-compliance, with said fines going to a community fund for environmental justice projects in New York State.
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Third, there is the issue of waste. An estimated 92 million tonnes of global textile waste is created each year, and this figure is expected to rise to 134 million tonnes by 2030. Under the Fashion Act, brands would be required to report their total production volumes of materials – a figure that has always been kept. hidden, then make them available online.
How does the legislative process work?
Bédat founded the New Standard Institute in 2019 – three years before the Fashion Act was introduced – with the understanding that politics, especially legislation, is a necessary tool to deliver the kind of impact she wants. to leave. She was already drafting a bill when Senator Biaggi came on the scene, and soon the Fashion Act began to take shape.
Together, they began connecting with climate and labor leaders across the state, eventually bringing together a coalition of nonprofits and thought leaders, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, as well as designers like Stella McCartney and Mara Hoffman. and celebrities such as Rosario Dawson, Jane Fonda and Leonardo DiCaprio. With the bill drafted and amended, he now serves on the New York State Senate Consumer Protection Committee and the Assembly Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee.
The Fashion Act must then be placed on the committee’s agenda, and only after it has been passed by either committee can it be put to a vote. Ideally, this happens before the New York State Legislature adjourns for the year in June. If the Fashion Act were to pass, it would go to Governor Kathy Hochul, who has 10 days (not counting Sundays) to pass or veto the bill.
To maximize the bill’s appeal to pass out of committee, the coalition has spent the past several months gathering input from stakeholders and lawmakers to prepare another draft. And that takes some good old-fashioned lobbying.
“Lobbying is just having a meeting,” says Bédat. “It is what it is. Some organizations hire lobbyists who represent industries, and they are just people who knock on doors professionally. But any of us can push for an idea by tweeting at our representative or going to Albany, and we actually have to do that to move forward.”
Their efforts may be paying off, as the result looks promising, with a number of committee members already coming to co-sponsor the bill. But it needs momentum – something the SB-62 has helped considerably.
“SB-62 was a demonstration that fashion industry-related bills can be passed in the United States,” Bédat said. “This idea that this is just an industry that will never be regulated began to be shaken with SB-62.”
Does your voice really count?
The coalition may be optimistic that the Fashion Act will get out of committee and onto the floor, but that depends on the engagement of its stakeholders, which include everyday advocates like you or me. Bédat finds that voters, especially millennials or Gen Zers, are increasingly exhausted — disengaged, even — by the lack of federal progress on climate and labor issues.
“Your voice, especially at the state level, can mean a lot,” she says. “And I hear this directly from senators and members of the assembly. If they get a call, a tweet or an email, they listen to this. There is a person on the other end who reads, hears , listening and will very potentially change their vote as a result of this one conversation, exchange, interaction.”
On Tuesday, the coalition travels to Albany for a rally at the New York State Capitol. (Interested parties can reserve their place on the bus, departing from New York, here.) And while in-person lobbying is hugely important, there are other valuable ways to get involved as well. (Go to TheFashionAct.org for specific advice on how to call, tweet or email New York State officials.)
A call, a tweet or an email could be that small step towards a new, more viable future, according to Bédat.
“There’s been a lot of conversation that individual action, when it comes to purchasing practices, won’t make a difference,” she says. “But individual action by engaging as a citizen does, and that’s the thing we need to bring about these systemic changes.”
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