The US fashion industry, containing everything from textile manufacturers to importers and retailers, is worth approximately 2.5 trillion dollars. It employs more than 1.8 million people nationwide and controls, in short, the clothes we wear every day. It makes up a crucial part of our everyday life.
And yet, the fashion industry consistently falls short of both sustainability and human rights standards. It accounts for more than 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than international flights and shipping combined. The materials used for clothing are also extremely environmentally costly to produce. A single pair of jeans requires around 7,500 to 10,000 liters of water, which is about ten years’ worth of drinking water for one person. Polyester fibers, the most common fabric used in clothing, are made from oil, and take up around 70 million barrels of oil every year.
The fashion industry’s labor standards are also poor at best. Because manufacturing costs are higher in the US, roughly 99 percent of clothing and footwear bought by American consumers are produced in other countries. In China, for example, workers are only paid an estimated $1.26 an hour, and the number drops to a mere 24 cents/hour in Bangladesh. Horrific working conditions and human rights violations are also a problem for the industry. According to the Ashridge Centre for Business and Sustainability and Ethical Trading Initiative, of the leading fashion brands in the US, 71 percent believe there is a likelihood of modern slavery occurring at some stage of their supply chains.
Source: Sustainable Earth/YouTube
It is clear that the fashion industry needs to be improved – and three new bills introduced to Congress and the New York State Senate have the potential to do just that.
The arguably most impactful of these bills is The Fashioning Accountability and Building Real Institutional Change Act, also known as the FABRIC Act. It was announced on May 12, 2022, by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and co-sponsored by Senator Cory Booker, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Senator Bernie Sanders.
The FABRIC Act includes five main action points. First, it will end “piece rates”, in which workers are paid for every garment of clothing they produce rather than an hourly wage; this system forces employees to work longer hours under more strenuous conditions for ultimately less money than a minimum wage job. Along with establishing an hourly wage, it will create productivity incentives for workers, institute liability measures to hold brands accountable for labor practices, and establish new transparency measures. Finally, it will create grants and tax incentives to encourage brands to manufacture in the United States, reducing transportation and fossil fuel requirements and discouraging foreign labor.
“This legislation will help ensure that when we go to our closets in the morning and look for something to wear, we can find clothes that were actually made in America and made fairly,” Senator Gillibrand said. “These measures are going to change the game.”
The Fashion Workers Act is another piece of legislation that, if passed, would go a long way in protecting the fashion industry workforce, especially models and other creative workers. It would require creatives and models to be paid within 45 days of a job and provide them with a copy of their contracts and agreements. It also eliminates practices such as collecting signing deposits from models, renewing contracts without the model or creative’s consent, and deducting fees that were not agreed upon from their salaries.
Finally, the Fashion Workers Act would forbid the management company or client from harassment or discrimination against models and creatives based on race, ethnicity, gender, or any other under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. While this may seem redundant, models are often highly vulnerable to forms of abuse due to one-sided contracts and a lack of accountability from companies. This bill would officially forbid the exploitation of models.
The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, or simply the Fashion Act, is the final proposed bill attempting to address the problems in the fashion industry. It is currently awaiting approval in the New York Senate and, if passed, would make New York the first state in the country to finally hold brands accountable for their environmental and social impacts.
Source: VICE News/YouTube
The bill would require companies that generate more than $100 million in revenues to disclose their supply chains across all production tiers. They would be required to spend a portion of their revenue on reducing their environmental impacts and improving labor standards. The Attorney General would have the power to enforce the law, fining companies up to two percent of their global revenue for violating it.
We may not know for a year or two which of these bills, if any, will be passed, but all three have the potential to go a long way in protecting both fashion workers and the environment. In the meanwhile, support sustainable brands like Tiny Rescue, a mission-based, woman and minority-owned sustainable fashion line breaking the mold with zero-waste fashion and raising awareness on important causes through recycled apparel. Their climate change collection is one of the best we have seen! All Tiny Rescue apparel is certified net carbon neutral and GOTS-certified organic cotton, and packaging is 100 percent plastic-free and made entirely from plants.
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