New York state’s proposed Fashion Act to reduce the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry is gaining international attention after Assemblywoman Anna Kelles spoke at the Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen last week.
State lawmakers continue to work on two measures to improve sustainability and worker protections in the fashion industry as New York is one of the world's leading fashion capitals.
Kelles, an Ithaca Democrat, has worked on the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act for the last two years to require companies across all tiers of the fashion supply chain to improve sustainable practices and reduce their carbon footprint. She was one of the summit's featured keynote speakers and addressed more than 1,000 people advocating for a multinational partnership to take legislative action and establish regulations for the first time.
"Governments must be an equal and active partner of the entire industry to achieve human rights and environmental sustainability targets," she said during her roughly eight-minute speech.
The fashion industry is responsible for up to 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions and is one of the leading global sources of child and slave labor.
If it becomes law, the Fashion Act would require all companies in the fashion industry to identify and publish their negative impacts on the environment and human rights, and set targets to reduce the risks. Companies would also be required to report their greenhouse gas emission protocols using international measurements, and track success in achieving their new targets.
The state attorney general's office would release an annual report evaluating compliance, and fine companies that refuse to comply up to 2% of their gross profit. Officials with the state Department of State, the Labor Department and Department of Environmental Conservation would also independently verify compliance.
Kelles touted the need for her legislation in the state and across the globe.
"Legislative and regulatory action creates an equal playing field and ensures that companies will not be put at a competitive disadvantage for doing the right thing," Kelles said of her legislation to the crowd. This creates an important floor."
The bill died in committee this session as Kelles continues to work with labor unions and build support among large fashion brands, which may pose the greatest pushback. Several large fashion brands have come out in support of the proposed law that would require them to review and improve their sustainability practices.
"We aren't going to reach that 50% reduction in our total global greenhouse gas emissions if there's no regulation in this industry, of which there's not," the assemblywoman said.
The Global Fashion Agenda, which presents the fashion summit, is tracking efforts to regulate the industry in context of environmental sustainability and human rights. Last month, the European Union officially accepted guidelines that parallel the parameters and proposed changes in the Fashion Act.
Similar legislation has been introduced in four other U.S. states and at the federal level, but fashion leaders are keeping close watch on what changes happen in New York.
Meanwhile, a measure passed the state Senate for the first time this session to create regulations on companies employing models, influencers, stylists, makeup artists and others in the industry. It stalled in the Assembly.
The Fashion Workers Act would require management companies that book fashion models and other creatives to register with the state, and ensure they are paid in a timely manner. The protections would be created to prevent the industry from controlling a model's finances, job opportunities or exploiting young people.
"I've spoken to some very well-known models who wait months, and in some cases, a year or longer for payment from clients," sponsor Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal said. "Modeling is seen in New York as a big boost to an individual's career, and that is true, but it shouldn't come at the cost of getting paid on time or having to pay a deposit to the person who is supposed to get your work and is making money off of you."
The measure would require models in contract be notified when they have royalties that are paid to an agency that may no longer represent them and prohibit agencies from collecting a fee or deposit from a model as a condition of representation.
If it becomes law, it would also set new harassment and discrimination guidelines, and mandate any nude or sexually explicit material complies with state civil rights laws.
Lawmakers ran out of time before session ended to get the measure over the finish line in both houses. Hoylman-Sigal, a Democrat from Manhattan, is hopeful it will get done next year.
"Every worker in New York state, no matter the industry, deserves these types of protections," he said.