Fashion workers are notoriously exploited. The United States could finally pass a law protecting them.
The fashion industry in the United States is finally facing a long overdue settling of scores. On Thursday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (DN.Y.) will present the first federal fashion bill force fashion brands to meet stricter labor standards. Perhaps more importantly, if passed, the bill will eliminate the predatory payment models the industry continues to rely on.
Change has been brewing in the fashion industry for quite some time. Last September, California passed the Garment Workers Protection Act, which mandated hourly wages and protected against wage theft, and earlier this year New York introduced the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act. While changes at the state level are significant, federal government intervention in this space is absolutely necessary.
Gillibrand’s Fashioning Accountability and Building Real Institutional Change (FABRIC) Act could be the necessary trigger. Like vogue reported, the FABRIC Act would protect workers by taking inspiration from the California bill and taking action against wage theft. It would also expand the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, meaning any brands that work with factories that pay less than the federal minimum wage would be subject to penalties.
Eighty percent of garment workers in the global fashion industry are women. This is a determining factor in the crafting of the bill by Gillibrand. Like she said vogue“There aren’t many industries where women are at the heart of the workforce, except in the fashion industry.”
In an email to vogueCris Lopez, a garment worker and member of the Garment Worker Center in Los Angeles, wrote, “The FABRIC Act is needed because it will improve the welfare of garment workers and their families.”
But industry players aren’t just celebrating the increased protections. They also point to the FABRIC Act’s overall investment in the industry. For example, the FABRIC Act would include the development of a $40 million National Apparel Manufacturing Support Program administered by the Department of Labor. The funds would go to businesses that want to upgrade their facilities. The bill also aims to invest in bringing more manufacturing back to the United States.
By vogue, Gillibrand noted that the apparel industry in the United States loses about $30 billion a year due to imports. “To fix this, we need to ban predatory payments through piece rates,” the senator said, referring to a model that pays workers per item they produce. “But we also need to incentivize these companies to bring manufacturing back to the United States or allow them to start here in the first place.”
So far, the FABRIC Act has received endorsements from a number of fashion brands and advocacy groups, including the Center for the Advancement of Garment Making, Fashion Connection, Skilled Laborers Brigade and The Slow Factory.