New York State introduces “Fashion Act” in a historic move towards supply chain accountability

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New York – New York State introduced legislation to make it easier for fashion companies to be more responsible in their manufacturing. The generally unregulated industry that contributes substantially to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions at a rate of 4-8.6 percent, contaminates billions of gallons of water dyeing textiles, and has–knowingly or unknowingly–benefited from exploitative labor practices in a race to the bottom to sell the cheapest and fastest-made clothing.

Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act would make it easier for consumers to avoid greenwashing. It would require all fashion retailers and manufacturers that do business in the state (those with an annual global gross receipt of more than one hundred million dollars) to map their supply chains, disclose their environmental and social impacts, and establish binding targets to reduce them. This could affect brands of all sizes, from large luxury multinationals like LVMH to opaque fast fashion esellers like Shein.

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These disclosures would be required to be posted on companies’ websites within 12 months of the law being enacted. The bill would also create a Community Benefit Fund that is administered by the Department of Environmental Conservation. This fund would use fines collected to support environmental justice projects. Companies that fail to remedy violations within three months may face a fine of up to 2 per cent of their annual revenues. Consumers can also sue companies or individuals who are violating the law, while the Attorney General is responsible for enforcement.

Senator Biaggi: We set out to create standards which enact real changes

Alessandra Biaggi (state senator for the Bronx/Westchester), sponsored the bill with support of the Act on Fashion Coalition. This coalition includes think tank New Standard Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council, (NRDC) and the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. FashionUnited asked the Senator for comment. She explained that she was originally interested in the topic in law school. “I took a course in fashion law, and I was immediately drawn to this subject before I ever worked in government. The New Standard Institute was my partner in drafting a piece of legislation that addressed various industry problems. We partnered up with them early last year. We examined issues that many industry leaders are working on, such as improving labor practices and lowering carbon emission. Then we set out to connect them all and create industry-wide standards that will bring about real change in the field.”

It is important that New York, the world’s fashion capital, is leading on this issue. The New York Times reports that there is no general legislation that governs the fashion industry’s greater social and environmental activities and mandates change. Senator Biaggi also stated that the state has a moral obligation to lead in mitigating the impact of the fashion sector on the environment and workers’ rights. He noted that the fashion industry “has operated in a black box for too long, which prevented consumers and governments from understanding the full scope of production.”

New York State already has ambitious climate laws. The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019, which requires a 40% reduction in economy-wide greenhouse gas emission by 2030, is one example. Brian Kavanagh is a cosponsor for the “Fashion Act” in the state Senate. He has supported legislative efforts to improve energy efficiency in construction projects and prevent new fossil fuel infrastructure. The Senator for Brooklyn’s waterfront, Lower Manhattan, stated that “To successfully combat climate change, it is necessary to fundamentally improve all sectors of society, including the apparel- and footwear industries.”

The New Standard Institute encourages support for the bill via the hashtag #ActOnFashion. This will help New York move quickly. Senator Biaggi concludes with a fitting statement: “It’s not hyperbole say it, but our state, nation and world’s fate depends on it.”

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