A statue of a worker in New York's Garment District (via Wikimedia Commons)

In the United States, the fashion industry has long managed to escape environmental and social regulation — despite the fact that it contributes up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and relies on notoriously exploitative labor. A piece of New York state legislation, the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act (or Fashion Act), introduced by State Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblywoman Anna Kelles, aims to transform this status quo. The Senate bill was first introduced in October 2021, and its counterpart in the Assembly was proposed on Friday, January 7.

If passed, the Fashion Act would make New York the first state in the nation to disclose the social and environmental impacts of their production processes, according to the New York Times. In particular, any clothing or footwear companies that rake in more than $100 million annually would be required to plan and implement “science-based targets,” which outline pathways for them to reduce emissions to help meet Paris Agreement objectives. They would need to report their energy usage and emissions and supply information about how they manage water, plastics, and chemicals. Additionally, routine due diligence around labor standards would be required. 

If any company fails to meet these regulations, it would be subject to fines amounting to up to 2% of its annual revenue. Those fines would be pooled into a community fund authorized by this legislation and overseen by the Department of Environmental Conservation. That fund would go to support environmental justice projects.

In particular, the bill requires companies to divulge at least half of their supply chains, spelling out where they get their materials, how they are transformed into fabrics, and what their shipping processes look like. They are also required to identify nodes in their chains where the social and environmental impact of production is greatest.

Biaggi and Kelles are aiming to get a vote on the bill by late spring, according to the Times. A report compiled by the Global Fashion Agenda, Boston Consulting Group, and Sustainable Apparel Coalition in 2019 found that 40% of the industry had not moved beyond issuing a formal commitment to sustainability — meaning that these companies had neither set aside material resources for sustainability initiatives nor possessed any traceability mechanisms to keep track of their supply chains. That same report also identified that progress with regards to sustainability in the fashion industry was slowing. 

Biaggi, Kelles, and a cast of supporters who have endorsed the bill — including fashion sustainability nonprofits like the New Standard Institute, environmental advocacy groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, and designer Stella McCartney — are optimistic that New York state’s importance for the industry will force its hand in taking action on climate change, and will pressure non-New York-based firms to be more accountable and transparent about their supply chains.

Jasmine Liu is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied anthropology and mathematics at Stanford University.