Fashion, Sustainability, New York Fashion Law

New York state legislation seeks to regulate the social and environmental impact of the fashion industry.

The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, currently pending in the New York State Senate, could represent a significant turning point for the fashion industry, which has historically been lax on labor and environmental issues. In recent years, there have been growing concerns about the impact of human trafficking, modern slavery, and severe pollution on the industry. Fashion law is part of a recent change in the legal environment regarding these issues in the United States.

Fashion is a $3 trillion industry worldwide. It accounts for an estimated 2% of the world’s gross domestic product. And in the US, the apparel sector alone employs about 1.8 million people, and there is a broader retail sector where he supports 32 million through jobs in agriculture, textile production, manufacturing and wholesale.

Fashion accounts for up to 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. For years, scientists have tracked pollution in waterways derived from synthetic fiber dyes, which contain chromium compounds, formaldehyde, and other harmful chemicals. is emphasized. Additionally, scientists, researchers, and industry insiders have long recommended washing new garments before wearing them, as the levels and effects of chemical residues left on finished garments are unknown.

Labor issues in fashion date back to the early 20th century, and the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City is evidence of that. Labor problems continue to this day in the garment manufacturing industry and even around the world as companies move their operations abroad. More than 1,100 people died when it collapsed.

Retailers and manufacturers also circumvent labor laws by subcontracting manufacturing to avoid the industry’s traditional wage system (paying workers for each part produced) and avoiding worker liability. have been accused of doing so.

In response, California, home to the largest number of garment workers in the United States, enacted a Supply Chain Transparency Act in 2010 and most recently, the Garment Workers Act, which will take effect earlier this year. enacted protection laws.

Unlike New York’s proposed fashion law, California’s supply chain law does not require fashion retailers and manufacturers to change their supply chains. Instead, California law mandates disclosure, allowing consumers to make informed decisions about which retailers and manufacturers to buy from. The California Protection Act, a U.S. law in California, expands the scope and penalties of previous laws to address wage theft by manufacturers and retailers.

Many of the problems addressed by such legislation stem from the rise of the global fashion system in the 1980s and 1990s, when much of the production of the U.S. fashion industry moved offshore. . Businesses began shifting their sourcing and manufacturing of clothing and footwear from country to country in search of a less regulated environment that enabled the lower clothing prices found in stores today.

Workplace conditions such as those seen in New York City in 1911 and Lana Plaza in 2013 continued, with slavery, human trafficking, factory fires and unsafe conditions, dead waterways with toxic pollutants, and polluted soil. caused

The damage caused by clothing and footwear manufacturing is forcing industry players, consumers, researchers and advocates to continue to challenge the systems that have sustained these conditions for over 100 years.

Within the past five years, evidence has emerged of government-run concentration camps in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, which has historically produced large amounts of cotton used by the fashion industry and US-based brands such as Target. Scrutiny was directed to areas where Walmart.

In 2021, the U.S. Congress passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. After gaining broad bipartisan support, the bill was signed into law by President Joseph R. Biden in his December. Federal prevention laws are broad, creating the rebuttable presumption that goods manufactured in the Xinjiang region are barred from entering the United States because they are manufactured using forced labor.

Binding agreements between fashion brands and trade unions are also a promising solution. After the Rana Plaza tragedy and subsequent industry public relations nightmare, 200 fashion brands have come together to sign a fire and building safety pact aimed at protecting Bangladeshi workers.

Experts from the Global Labor Rights Center at Pennsylvania State University found little change in the formal legal rights of Bangladesh’s four million garment workers and suppliers five years after the disaster. Still, Accord has improved safety in some factories and through independent safety inspections he has identified and eliminated over 97,000 hazards in over 1,600 factories.

As the fashion industry emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, it faces renewed scrutiny over its climate impact and working conditions for garment workers around the world. Government officials in the US and Europe are increasingly realizing that voluntary compliance will not produce the results they need.

In this context, the proposed fashion law in New York comes to the fore. Nike, Adidas, Under Armor, Zara, H&M, Gap, Chanel, Lululemon and more.

Fashion law requires companies to map 50% of their supply chain by volume across all tiers of production. If the bill is enacted, companies will have to make good faith efforts to map their suppliers and their associated supply chains. This demonstrates legislators’ awareness of subcontracting tactics frequently used to circumvent compliance.

Companies must post various disclosures, including environmental due diligence policies, processes and results, on their websites within 12 months of enactment. Companies should also include reports on their social and environmental sustainability efforts, including relevant information from external sources and specific actions taken to combat negative impacts of the company.

In order to track the effectiveness of a company’s efforts, a “Priority Adverse Environmental and Social Impact Disclosure” must be posted within 18 months of the original policies and procedures being enacted.

The New York Attorney General enforces this law. Penalties include, but are not limited to, fines of up to 2% of his annual earnings of $450 million or more. The fines collected are put into the community benefit fund and allocated to environmental protection and environmental justice efforts.

If passed, New York’s fashion law would provide the United States with the most comprehensive approach yet to address labor and environmental issues in fashion.

Melissa Gamble

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