Fast fashion companies are on a mission to see production and sales higher than ever before. With each year that passes, this leads to an increase in waste and pollution as well as a continuation of unfair conditions for garment workers.
In response, independent sustainable businesses are working earnestly to implement new strategies to reduce environmental harm from the clothing creation process. However, with such a large portion of the industry maintaining high emissions and massive excess, a push towards government regulation is surfacing in countries around the world. Included below are some of the sustainability policies being put forward and the impacts they intend to generate within the world of fashion.
GOAL: Establish Transparency From Company To Consumer
A major target of legislation aiming to reform how clothing brands develop pieces is the public sharing of their social and environmental footprints. By providing this information, companies will be held to greener standards and everyday shoppers can better understand the ecological cost of their purchases.
In the United States, strides toward this objective are being made with the proposal of New York’s Sustainability and Social Accountability Act. Currently in the New York Senate Committee, the otherwise known “Fashion Act” would require businesses to report their management of water, chemicals and greenhouse gas emissions. The bill also asks companies to chart their supply chains in addition to how much garment workers are being paid. After disclosing these details, fashion companies need to then decrease their environmental effects to match sustainable goals defined in the bill.
If the Fashion Act is passed, New York would become the first state to seek accountability from some of the largest names in fashion. This includes recognizable brands like Zara, Armani, Prada and any other apparel business earning more than $100 million from products sold in New York. For companies that choose not to comply, the Act urges the Attorney General to file reports and fines on annual revenue can occur.
Overseas, similar efforts are taking place with the European Union’s proposal of the Eco Design for Sustainable Products, or ESPR. This new directive would allow the European Commission to institute performance and information standards for a wide range of goods on the EU market.
With the performance standards, fashion brands must design garments with expectations of minimum waste, energy efficiency, and recyclability in mind. Information standards require businesses to share the amount of waste unsold pieces generate and supply items shipped in the EU with “digital product passports”. These digital “passports” will serve as environmental guides both for consumers looking to make more informed purchases and for manufacturers who manage the repairs and recycling of clothing. However, with ESPR potentially not being put into effect until 2025, it will take some time before these positive changes are administered.
GOAL: Prevent Violations of Human Rights & Environment
Alongside the exploitation of the environment, garment workers are also often mistreated in the form of wage theft and hazardous workplaces. As the shift toward ethical fashion gains increasing traction, ensuring that the individuals who produce clothing receive proper payment is a crucial step.
Effective as of January 1st, 2022, California’s Garment Worker Protection Act is transforming how the fast fashion industry can treat its workers. One of the biggest successes of this bill passing is the termination of the “Piece Rate”. This means that employees involved in manufacturing garments need to obtain income at an hourly rate rather than by quantity of pieces made. These hourly wages must be no less than minimum wage and any businesses found violating the Act will be liable for reimbursing all failed payments. While a massive victory for the U.S. center of fashion manufacturing, Los Angeles, California Governor Gavin Newsom also characterizes the Act as “nation leading” in its efforts toward sustainable fashion.
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is further fueling the hopes for achieving the safety and fair wage security of garment workers on a national level. In May 2022, she introduced the Fashioning Accountability and Building Real Institutional Change (FABRIC) Act which places a focus on protecting employees and encouraging apparel trade domestically. The core pillars of the FABRIC Act include:
Imposing minimum wage standards across all U.S. garment factories
Developing a Domestic Garment Manufacturing Support Program to motivate
internal trade through grants
Providing tax credits to businesses that bring their manufacturing operations to the U.S.
To support the FABRIC Act becoming a law, you can sign the official petition, reach out to your senators, or spread awareness through social media using #PassFABRICAct.
In the EU, the European Commission is initiating a Directive on corporate sustainability due diligence. With a goal to guarantee overall corporate responsibility for the environment and workers’ rights, the Directive’s scope spans beyond the fashion industry. Any EU business with over 500 employees and 150 million EUR in worldwide earnings must adhere to the Commission’s proposed policies. Requirements of maintaining due diligence consist of recognizing potential labor or environmental violations and publicly expressing plans to minimize those harmful effects.
Is This New Legislation Enough?
While new legislation can absolutely help in the journey of fashion becoming sustainable, the industry will only truly change when consumer demand steps away from fast fashion. Consider the following ways you can help the shift the tide in how
consumers buy clothing today:
- Donate unwanted clothing rather than throwing it out
- Follow “buy better and buy less” when thinking about the material and quality of a piece
- Use United By Zero’s Chrome Extension to learn more about sustainable brands you can trust
A greener tomorrow can start today.