All attempts to curtail the worst offences of the fashion industry have failed to make a significant impact. Most have been in the form of voluntary agreements, so most companies don't sign up, and those that do face little to no repercussions for breaching the terms. The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) 2019 report "Fixing Fashion: Clothing Consumption and Sustainability" was extremely clear in stating that a 'voluntary approach has failed.' 

What is the Fashion Act?

The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act is an ambitious piece of legislation that's being proposed in the New York State Assembly. 

If passed, it would require any major fashion brand (global revenue of over $100 million) wanting to sell their products in New York (i.e., all of them) to meet the requirements in the Act or face legal consequences. The requirements affect the whole company, so their effects would be global, not just New York specific. 

It includes making brands responsible for human rights abuses in their supply chain by providing workers a legal mechanism for recovering any lost or stolen wages, reducing their carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, and ensuring that their suppliers are managing their chemicals in line with the ZDHC's most up-to-date Wastewater Guidelines, so they don't end up creating black and dead rivers.

How is the Fashion Act different from what has come before?

  • It's a law with financial consequences for breaking it 
As mentioned abovethe pacts and schemes that have come before have been voluntary. The Fashion Act gives the state of New York powers to monitor and investigate companies and fine them 2% of global revenue if they are found to be non-compliant.
  • The rules are specific and measurable
So they can't just pay lip service to them with a well-worded page in their annual report. For example, they have to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement in absolute terms, so no offsetting schemes and no ignoring Scope 3 emissions. 
  • It makes brands responsible for their supply chain
Fashion brands aren't currently legally required to take responsibility for how their clothes are made because they don't make them. They design the clothes and then subcontract the manufacturing to external companies who own the factories. The factories in turn buy the components (fabrics, fixings, etc.) from other companies, who buy the raw materials (cotton, polyester, dyes, etc.) from farms and other suppliers. They are all legally separate entities. So much like how we aren't held responsible for how the products we buy are made, neither are they. 
This Fashion Act would change that.  
The proposed Act would make fashion retailers accountable for what happens in their supply chains by requiring them to produce maps of their supply chains and "… identify, prevent, mitigate, account for, and take remedial action to address actual and potential adverse impacts to human rights and the environment in their own operations and in their supply chain."


What are the limitations of the Fashion Act?

The Act, in its current form, could go further in some areas. For instance, the supply chain mapping requirement is only 50%. 

Fines, the consequence for breaking the rules, have historically been taken as a price to do business rather than a serious deterrent in other industries that have used them.

But The Act is undoubtedly a huge step in the right direction and something that could be built on and expanded in the future if passed.

For more info on how you can support the bill, head over to The Fashion Act's website.


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