In January 2022, a New York coalition proposed a Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act. It requires all fashion companies generating more than $100 million that operate in New York to disclose specific information. or example, their environmental footprints, water usage, the volume of materials produced, carbon emissions and supply chains. The legislation would work to hold major fashion companies accountable for their environmental impacts. However, the legislation would not be limited to disclosing information within the fashion industry. It would also set targets that brands were required to meet to enforce the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
The proposed Act also improves social aspects of the industry by enforcing the disclosure of median wages and working conditions. Those who do not comply with the set expectations will be subject to fines, which adds additional motivation for brands to improve their environmental and social impacts.
Sustainability & Social Accountability Act Criticisms
While the initial premise of The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act appears promising, there were criticisms. Many have argued that it needs to strengthen its labour provisions and diversify the group of contributors. It will adequately reflect the voices within the industry. It includes listening to the voices of those working under the conditions the proposed bill serves to project, such as garment workers. Additionally, it alludes to the lack of racial diversity within the group that initiated the original legislation.
Another issue with The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act is the supply chain requirement. It states that brands should disclose at least 50% of their supply chains, not the entire list. That queries which 50% of the supply chain brands choose to disclose. Companies could be selective and only showcase the parts that highlight the company. That would potentially contribute to the already rampant issue of greenwashing within fashion.
Maxine Bérdat (founder of sustainability “think and do tank” New Standard Institute) stated that 50% should be a bare minimum. It suggests the amount companies choose to disclose could indicate how much they have to hide. The language used here was also intentionally ambiguous because it allows the proposed bill to remain applicable across the industry despite its vast differences.
Finally, the proposed bill has faced criticism due to its fixation on disclosure rather than action. Whilst transparency is crucial in investigating the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry, it is of no value unless it leads to action. Critics feel that the bill could add to the current system of information disclosure. They are often selective about what they share, with no action taken to improve the sustainability or ethics of the industry. It, therefore, highlights yet another call for more regulation rather than a discussion of sustainability and ethics.
As a result of the criticism and the failure to get the bill voted in, The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act needs altering to improve its chances in the next legislative year. These changes include tightening the criteria required of the businesses, bigger targets, and, most importantly, better plans for enforcement. It also importantly prioritises garment workers, something that was severely lacking in the original draft.
The new Act would include joint and several liabilities between retailers and their garment workers. It allows workers to hold their employers legally accountable and sue them for issues such as lost wages. Reformation and Patagonia have supported the amended legislation, to name a few. Patagonia was recently praised when Yvon Chouinard gave the company to a charitable trust, prioritising fighting climate change over financial gain. Hopefully, this support will continue, and the Act will be able to make some positive improvements within the fashion industry.