On 2nd January this year, the Act on Fashion Coalition along with designer Stella McCartney, announced a groundbreaking new bill in New York State.
Sponsored by Senator Alessandra Biaggi and introduced by Assembly member Dr. Anna Kelles, The Fashion Act (The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act) S7428/A8352, is aimed to address the social and environmental toll taken by the global fashion industry.
“New York emerged as a climate action leader in 2019 with the passage of New York State’s landmark climate law. So it is fitting that New York should also lead in reining in the fashion industry for its rampant climate abuse – and will do so by passing the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act. Not only does New York have a responsibility to hold one of our flagship industries accountable, but in doing so, will serve as a model for other Government leaders to follow suit, both nationally and globally…,” opined Executive Director of New York Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC-EJA), Eddie Bautista.
Founded in 1991, NYC-EJA is a non-profit organisation that highlights key environmental justice issues and policies that arise in multiple communities.
The New York Fashion Act, would have its ramifications across manufacturing destinations, not to mention Bangladesh, which is next only to China, in terms of manufacturing prowess and export volumes.
Titled the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, the New York bill aims to make apparel retailers and makers disclose detailed information on environmental and social practices, including workers’ wage and carbon emissions, at all levels of the global supply chain – from raw material sourcing to finished products even as leaders of Bangladesh’s apparel sector, a key source of global fashion supply, feel that the requirements of the bill would not be hard to comply with, but cost of their business would go up and need to be compensated by fair prices.
“As a global fashion and business capital of the world, New York State has a moral responsibility to serve as a leader in mitigating the environmental and social impact of the fashion industry. I am incredibly proud to introduce and sponsor the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act— a groundbreaking piece of legislation that will make New York the global leader in holding the US $ 2.5 trillion fashion industry accountable and ensuring labour, human rights and environmental protection are prioritised….,” said New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, the Prime Senate Sponsor of the bill.
The reference of ‘holding the US $ 2.5 trillion fashion industry accountable’ in itself is enough to surmise the probable implications of this bill and, garment makers in Bangladesh know for sure, what it means for them, who are already forced to deal with wafer thin profit margins even as they struggle to come out of the pandemic’s impacts.
Speaking to Apparel Resources (AR), an expert working closely in the realms of environment sustainability held the new regulations will increase the hassle and cost for the garment makers even as he expressed fears it could very well be the suppliers, who will have to bear the financial burden of it.
“…there is no mechanism on where the additional costs will come from because buyers always want things at the lowest possible price,” added the expert claiming it would be more logical to come up with a specific guideline by all the importing countries even as another expert claimed it was a joint responsibility of all the stakeholders to bear the overall cost even as he expressed happiness that the stance taken by New York, might very well give that much-needed push towards cohesive action by the stakeholders, which has been missing so far, he feels.
“It will be clear what kind of impact the law, once it is passed, will have on Bangladesh’s exports. Even if there are no major impacts, the cost will go up…,” ominous it may sound, stated the President of the apex garment makers body of BGMEA, Faruque Hassan in the meanwhile even as others in the industry opined, getting anything extra from the buyers, in terms of better pricing is something that borders on impossibility.
“…in the hyperbole of transparency and traceability, buyers are eager to know or they already know the costs of input materials and manufacturing in detail. We are, by the ways, compelled to accept the pricing they design and offer. They approach us with preset cost sheets wherein factories stand hardly any chance to negotiate higher prices,” observed CEO & Head of Business of Fakir Fashions Abdullah Al Maher, who also felt depending on the sourcing country and its brand image, price points for the same product keeps varying and, renowned as a cheap manufacturing destination, Bangladesh more often than not, is at the receiving end of the same.
Further such pressure tactics by the buyers often lead to unhealthy competition between suppliers, who at times agree to produce even at break-even prices, consequent to which the BGMEA and the BKMEA recently formed a joint committee to fix minimum unit prices of apparel items.
Nevertheless, given the scenario at hand consequent to the latest development, most in the industry believe, it would be the suppliers who would have to bear the financial implications and they are perhaps right in this.
In all previous sustainability endeavours even if dictated by the brands and buyers, it were the suppliers who had to dig deep to make available the funds and initiatives like Accord and Alliance are cases in points.
However, not many are hopeful the bill will have the kind of impact that it desires to even if it is different matter though, between the bill, buyers and price points, it’s the suppliers who will get crushed.
“…It’s now a world of accountability and all parties need to be responsible. The ball, however, will have to start rolling with consumers who generally are averse to paying more. As long as the game for cheaper products exists, any step towards sustainability by the brands will go unheeded and any pressure on suppliers will also be in vain,” feels ex-BGMEA President and Chairperson of Mohammadi Group, Rubana Huq, adding, “…the pressure on suppliers will increase nonetheless.”
Now, what would be the overall implications of this bill on the Bangladesh garment makers remain to be seen although the following observation by a garment maker sums up the popular sentiment of the industry when he says, “Sustainable business practices must ensure sustainable livelihoods and that is what matters at the end of the day…”