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Historic New York bill seeks to hold fashion retailers accountable on sustainability

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A historic bill in New York is aiming to hold major fashion brands in New York accountable on sustainability and worker's rights. Backed by multiple environmental and human rights advocacy groups, the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act would be the first of its kind in the nation. 

The bill, sponsored by State Senator Alessandra Biaggi and State Assemblywoman Dr. Anna Kelles, would require all New York apparel and footwear retailers with global revenues of at least $100 million to disclose their plans to "identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address" the adverse social and environmental impacts of their production processes. 

"We have an opportunity to really lead the way," Biaggi said at a virtual press conference on Friday announcing the bill. "And it is not hyperbolic to say that our state and our country and our world's future depends on all of us taking bold action in all the ways that we can."

The bill, which could impact retailers ranging from Shein to Prada, requires companies to map out at least 50% of their supply chain process across each tier of production, identify and share the negative social and environmental effects of the process, and set targets to reduce those impacts. The retailers are then required to meet their targets and report their annual compliance.  

Companies that do not comply would be hit with a fine of up to 2% of their total annual revenue and would be included on a list from the state's attorney general of noncompliant companies, according to the bill. The fines would be used to fund "environmental benefit projects that directly and verifiably benefit environmental justice communities," according to the bill. 

Fashion designer Stella McCartney, who has endorsed the act, said in a statement Friday that it's crucial the fashion industry "commit now to taking measurable action towards mitigating our impact for a more sustainable, ethical and mindful future." 

According to the New Standard Institute, one of many advocacy groups backing the bill, 4-8.6% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the global apparel and footwear industry. The fashion industry is on pace to account for more than a quarter of the world's carbon budget, according to the group. 

Mazeda Uddin, the CEO and founder of the South Asian Fund for Education, Scholarship and Training, said the fashion industry also contributes to forced labor. According to the United Nations Children's Fund, more than 100 million children around the world are affected by the garment and footwear supply chain as either workers themselves or as the children of working parents. 

"Every day people are dying," Uddin said, joining other advocates who called for the bill's swift passage. 

"I've seen the impact that an industry run unchecked has on the global workforce and the environment," Dr. Kelles said. "We cannot make change if we don't know where we are and where we need to go." 

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