EPISODE 30: Is Sustainable Fashion finally moving from Morality to Legality?




fashion legislation, circularity, supply chain, sustainable product, greenwashing



Welcome to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host Belinda Humphrey and my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, planet and product.


Hello, and welcome to episode 30 of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. Welcome back to those who have listened in before, thanks so much for choosing to spend some time listening to me. I feel so grateful for all of the support so far and if you're new or listening in for the first time, thank you as well. I hope you find something useful or inspiring from the episode. And if you are new and haven't heard me mentioned before, I send out a monthly newsletter full of inspiring articles or development within the fashion and sustainability space and you can sign up to that at belindahumphrey.com. And if you have been listening and like it, I would love it if you had time to give a quick rating or review on Apple or Spotify as it really helps to get the podcast out there.


For today's episode, I wanted to talk about a new piece of legislation that New York is looking to introduce. If you've been listening for a while, you'll know that I really believe that to achieve true change, the bulk of responsibility is on governments to make new legislation rather than consumers trying to wade through greenwashing. So I was really excited to see a bold move like this in New York. Particularly when a recent report by the global fashion agenda in 2019 found that 40% of the fashion industry had not moved beyond issuing a formal commitment to sustainability, meaning that these companies had neither set aside material resources for sustainability initiatives, nor possessed any traceability mechanisms to keep track of their supply chains.


The same report also showed that progress with sustainability in fashion was slowing. Despite all this, and I mean that report was in 2019, so things have obviously changed since then but I think there's a few things that are finally pushing governments to address the opaqueness of the fashion supply chain. But one story I came across was in Apparel Insider, where they're reported that nearly 1500 cargo ships had been detained at the US ports over a 12 month period, due to concerns they may contain products produced using forced labour. According to the report, it is likely that at least half of these detainment contain cotton and textiles, and many of them are likely to have links with Xinjiang in China. These all added up to an estimated value of half a billion dollars over the 12 months and Customs Border Protection were taking a hard stance on the issue saying that if you are importing a container into the US, the onus is on you to prove that it does not contain products which may have been produced using forced labour. The burden of proof is on the importer, which means the responsibility of mapping and understanding supply chains is also on the importer, as well as not taking an out of mind out of sight approach and relying on a third party certification.


Going back to the legislation, what is it? Well, it's called the Fashion Sustainability and Social accountability Act and if it's passed New York will become the first state in the US to account for fashion related climate change. If it passes, clothing and footwear companies that are actively operating in New York and generate in excess of $100 million per year will be targeted. That threshold of $100 million will include brands from Shein all the way up to Prada.


So what will companies need to do to comply? First up, they will need to divulge 50% of their entire supply chain network, starting with their raw materials, how they are transformed into fabrics and what their shipping processes look like. After assessing everything, brands will be asked to acknowledge their most unsustainable practices and commitments to improve these areas will be required as well as carbon emission reductions in line with the Paris Climate Accord targets. Companies will also need to make public, figures surrounding material usage breaking down the annual consumption of different materials, including all virgin fibres and animal products.


And what are the consequences of something like this? Well, if it's passed companies have just 12 months to provide effective supply chain mapping, and 18 months for assessing and relaying areas of significant impact. Any companies found to be operating outside of the law will be named and shamed with the Attorney General publishing a list of offenders each year, as well as being fined up to 2% of their annual revenue. The money that they collect with these funds will go to a community fund and use to support environmental justice initiatives.


So what does this mean globally? If it passes and New York really wants to be a leader in this area, it could spark a global trend leading the way on how to combat the issue.


That being said, though, there are also other legislation being introduced around the world, such as Italy announcing a blanket ban on fur farming with the remaining 10 locations being given six months to tie up their interests. And in March last year, the EU approved the proposal for a directive on mandatory human rights, environmental and good governance due diligence. Which has a similar theme to the New York bill in that when it becomes legislation, companies will have to pay a penalty if they're causing harm by not doing their due diligence. Companies, including fashion brands will have to take responsibility for their entire supply chain, making sure they've prevented child labour, allowing freedom of association and biodiversity among other things.


And staying in the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority announced the "Green claims code". Brands making misleading or vague sustainability claims, or claims that are not substantiated that omit information or that don't take into consideration the entire lifecycle of a product, could from January 2022, find themselves in breach of consumer protection laws. So a fast fashion brand dropping a "sustainable" in inverted commas collection, without stating exactly what makes it sustainable will no longer be acceptable. I actually think this is a really important one because as much as I agree that you should test on a smaller scale before rolling out to a big company in particular, I'm yet to see any substantial changes in ranges with large brands, where's the commitment to roll this out company wide.


There's also a government committee in the UK, which are recommending a tax on Virgin plastics, which would include polyester. And in California, they've adopted an Extended Producer Responsibility "EPR" legislation for categories including carpets, mattresses and paint, which require manufacturers to pay up front for the costs of disposal of their goods. This concept of an extended producer responsibility legislation is also being looked at by the UK.


So I don't know about you, but I feel positive that the tide could be turning in terms of putting in place legislation, because I think leaving the responsibility to do the right thing, or up to individual brands or companies hasn't been working. But sadly, I'm yet to see any kind of new legislations being talked about in Australia. In a country that has such a deep connection with the land, it would make sense for us to embrace being leaders in this field too. And although there are some new initiatives and research happening with circularity, on the world stage, our policies are falling behind. But that's a whole other issue and totally different podcast.


So I hope you found some inspiration in today's episode, despite it being a little bit of a heavier one, get in touch if you found today's episode interesting, I'd love to hear from you. You can send me an email at info@belindahumphrey.com or you can DM me on Instagram @belindahumphrey_ and again a reminder if you're interested in the latest developments in fashion and sustainability, you can sign up to my monthly newsletter by heading to belindahumphrey.com.


Thanks for listening to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you want to get in touch head over to belindahumphrey.com or you can find me on Instagram @belindahumphrey_


Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change. 


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