New York continues to move closer to implementing The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, which is aimed at cleaning up the industry’s environmental social footprints. It’s now earned support from a roster of celebrities.
Proposed legislation in New York that would see the fashion industry held to tighter scrutiny over its contributions to climate change and human rights violations, has gained support from leading celebrities including Rosario Dawson, Jane Fonda, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Cameron Diaz.
The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act (S7428 / A08352), introduced last October, is aimed at the industry leaders, those with $100 million or more in revenue. It would bring tighter restrictions and penalties for failure to comply.
The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act
Under the legislation, fashion companies selling in the state would need to list and track a minimum of 50 percent of their supply chain—all the way from the farm to front window displays. It’s a stipulation not all experts see as capable of making a dent, as Slow Factory’s executive director Céline Semaan says it gives the brands the opportunity to be selective in which suppliers they highlight.
“Mapping suppliers doesn’t necessarily get us any closer to stopping the destruction,” she says.
“It’s a great step forward, sure — because the bar is so low,” she told Vogue Business. “As with all well-meaning regulations and standards, the devil is in the details, and the enforcement.”
Semaan is one of many that have pushed for language tightening the bill’s requirements. It’s currently being amended.
The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act would require companies to publish annual “social and environmental sustainability reports” addressing their due diligence across the supply chain including “policies, processes and activities conducted to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for potential environmental and social risks.”
Companies would also be required to disclose both real and potential negative impacts, both environmental and social, including greenhouse gas emission in accordance with Paris Agreement targets, impact on water as well as chemical use, and reporting on material production volumes, types, and percentages of recycled materials used. The companies would be required to set annual targets aimed at reducing their environmental impact, with actionable Science-Based Targets like those outlined in the Paris Accord.
Fashion industry impacts
According to New York’s Columbia University, the fashion industry is responsible for 10 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and 20 percent of the world’s wastewater. The industry consumes 93 billion metric tons of clean water annually. Fashion uses more energy than both aviation and maritime industries combined.
Cotton, the world’s most popular fabric, is particularly problematic. Last week, the New York Times dived into widespread fraud and corruption in India’s cotton industry. India is the world’s leading producer of cotton.
Beyond labeling fraud, cotton is a big problem for the planet, producing 1.2 million metric tons of CO2 per year. The Macarthur Foundation says 2018 saw the industry produce more emissions than France, Germany and the U.K. combined.
Virgin polyester, a fossil fuel byproduct, is found in about 65 percent of all clothing, and consumes 70 million barrels of oil each year.
Cotton is not much better, consuming 7,500 to 10,000 liters of water for just two pounds of cotton to produce a single pair of jeans. It’s also the most widely sprayed agricultural crop, leading pesticides and herbicides to pollute waterways, soil, and human health. Material dyeing and leather tanning are also problematic, producing at least 20 percent of global industrial water pollution as well as exposing workers to harmful chemicals.
The fashion industry also contributes to deforestation, consuming 70 million trees each year for the production of rayon, viscose, and other fabrics. According to Columbia, that number is expected to double by 2034.
The industry is also a leading producer of waste, microfibers and microfibers, contributing to the growing problem of ocean pollution.
Despite efforts to tackle human rights issues in the fashion industry, a report released last October found labor issues had worsened across much of the industry, not improved. From 2017 to 2021, violations that include forced labor, modern slavery, and child labor increased across 11 key manufacturing markets.
Celebrities speak out
Academy Award-winning actor and activist Jane Fonda said she supports the measure to “do what is needed” to push the industry in line with what science is saying, “We must stop polluting the environment, cutting down forests, despoiling our oceans and creating forever waste,” she said in a statement.
“This is untenable and yet the industry faces no regulations and is free to exploit the least protected regions of the world. Wherever you are, whoever you are, please sign onto the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act. We’ll need everyone on board to get this act passed.”
Actor, activist, and native New Yorker Rosario Dawson said that fashion is one of the least regulated industries globally. “It is a major polluter and a leading industry of modern-day slavery. We need to stop the race to the bottom and #ActOnFashion.”
Other celebrities backing the legislation include Model and Paul Walker Foundation founder Meadow Walker, Shailene Woodley, Nikki Reed, Andie MacDowell, and Zooey Deschanel.
The bill has received support from the Act on Fashion Coalition, includes the New Standard Institute, Stella McCartney, Amber Valletta, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), and the South Asian Fund for Education Scholarship and Training (SAFEST).
Not yet on board are The Council of Fashion Designers of America and the American Apparel and Footwear Association. They released a joint statement last month saying more needs to be done, and that both organizations are working toward 2030 and 2050 targets but said they weren’t consulted on the legislation.
“We are currently taking time to understand the bill and look forward to speaking with its authors to provide our input and share our perspectives.”