Promoting Global Environmental Action in the Fashion Industry
Middlebury College's Institute of International Studies Environmental Policy Program in collaboration with Fashion Revolution
The United States is among the top 5 consumers of fashion globally and yet, in many countries in the world, including the United States, the fashion industry and its resulting human rights and environmental impacts remain unregulated. Fashion Revolution, the world’s largest fashion activism movement campaigning for a clean, safe, fair and transparent fashion industry, publishes an annual review of 250 of the world’s largest fashion brands and retailers who are ranked according to the level of information they disclose about their human rights and environmental policies, practices, procedures, outcomes and impacts. The Fashion Transparency Index finds that for 2021, major fashion brands and retailers remain largely un-transparent about their human rights and environmental policies, practices, outcomes and impacts with an overall average score of just 23%.
WFI believes the adverse effects of the fashion industry pose a global challenge that necessitates an innovative, multi-pronged approach and an interdisciplinary collaboration that provides critical research into the issues so they can be put into action by governments and corporations, who are ultimately the most responsible to address the harmful effects of the fashion industry on people and the environment.
During the Spring of 2022, WFI partnernered with the Middlebury College of International Studies International Environmental Policy Program to provide in-depth policy recommendations alongside Fashion Revolution.
The fashion industry’s staggering overproduction problem has led to immense human rights and environmental impacts. This, coupled with the industry’s lack of transparency on carbon emissions (and lack of progress on implementation of renewable energy across supply chains) means that one of the industries, which contributes most to negative impacts globally, is also one of the most lightly regulated global industries. The complex nature of global supply chains, operating in many different regions, complicates efforts to tackle such issues within the United States and beyond. The Middlebury team’s task was to provide various recommendations across different stakeholders, including those for policymakers and major brands and retailers, that would help facilitate a regulatory framework to hold those most responsible to account for their adverse environmental outcomes, which often impact women to a greater degree as they comprise the overwhelming majority of garment workers.
The aim of the project was to further leverage Fashion Revolution’s existing work to campaign for greater transparency of brands’ human rights and environmental policies, practices, outcomes and impacts as a critical first step in improving the fashion industry’s sustainability and social impact. This, through broadening our understanding of the fossil fuel industry by undertaking a literature review on production and manufacturing in Asian countries as it relates to renewable energy options, the lack of transparency on biomass and its traceability and the effectiveness of Purchasing Practice Agreements (PPAs) and Energy Attribute Certificates (EACs). At the moment, there are a series of incoming legislations that require brands’ mandatory disclosure of their human rights and environmental due diligence procedures and this paper seeks to outline some of those changes, their implications and what needs to happen next to create a clean, safe, fair and transparent fashion industry.