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‘Today We Rest’: NY Fashion Act Gets Timed Out Despite ‘Historic’ Milestone

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The Fashion Act lives to fight another day.

Despite squeezing past the New York State Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee in the final hours of Albany’s legislative session on Friday, the bill formally known as the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act didn’t get to the floor in time for a vote.

But the fact that the watershed bill made it this far, which is “historic” and a first for the Fashion Act, is a sign of progress, said Maxine Bédat, executive director of the “think and do tank” the New Standard Institute and one of its architects.

Momentum for the so-called “New York bill with a global reach” has also never been stronger, she said. More than 90 legislators are now co-sponsors of the Fashion Act, which seeks to hold big fashion businesses selling into the Empire State accountable for their hefty environmental footprints. The number of brands, manufacturers, NGOs, students, ambassadors—even Hollywood A-listers like Leonardo DiCaprio and Angelina Jolie—that have come out in support of the measure has likewise quadrupled since it was introduced in 2022. Other states, including California and Washington, are clamoring for a version of their own.

“As a result of this collective effort, New York legislators now better understand that the industry is stuck in a race to the bottom that won’t be stopped without common-sense rules, backed up by meaningful consequences,” Bédat said. “While we simply ran out of time this session, this growing movement will be ready, and more organized, better funded and more energized than ever to pass meaningful legislation that addresses the harms of the fashion industry and sets up the basic rules to allow this industry to thrive today and in the future.”

The Fashion Act would require brands and retailers that conduct business in New York and rake in more than $100 million in gross global income to map and disclose at least half of their suppliers by volume across all tiers, adopt baseline and reduction targets for energy, greenhouse gas emissions, water and chemical use, and divulge the amount product they churn out by material type.

The original version had social dimensions, too, but Assemblywoman Anna R. Kelles and Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, its Democratic sponsors, decided just before a lobby day last month to split the two to increase the first half’s chance of success. The thinking was that this would also aid in the adoption of the second half, which includes responsible purchasing practices and the establishment of a fashion remediation fund.

Liability is a critical part of the Fashion Act. Non-compliant businesses can be fined up to 2 percent of their annual revenues. Decades of voluntary commitments have not gotten the industry very far, said Bédat. People “can have nice things,” she said, but that will take “common-sense legislation.”

The move comes at a regulatory inflection point for multinational businesses facing ever-mounting scrutiny over their supply chain practices, from a stringent U.S. ban on imports from China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to the European Union’s corporate sustainability due diligence directive. Companies tend to fall into two camps regarding this trend: some embrace the idea of a level playing field where everyone is governed by the same rules regardless of moral compass; others see the demands as onerous and a political overreach. Business interests have watered down the CSDDD by lowering the thresholds of who will be in scope. Bédat doesn’t want to see the same thing happen to the Fashion Act.

“We invite all those who want to be a part of that future to join us,” she said. “I continue to hope to see leadership from legacy companies and trade associations. You can choose to be a part of this future with us, or move even further from an authentic sustainable future. We want your success, and hope you choose leadership.”

This isn’t the end, but a beginning, Bédat added. There is also the New York Senate to tackle before the rules can be signed into law. And there’s always next January, when the new session starts up, though the bill will have to be reintroduced, complete with new numbers for its Assembly and Senate versions.

“Today we rest, so tomorrow we can build on our enormous collective progress and get the Fashion Act passed,” she said.

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