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FABRIC Act is the first-ever congressional bill regulating the fashion and clothing industries

GovTrack Insider – Medium
GovTrack.us
2022-05-25
https://govtrackinsider.com/fabric-act-is-the-first-ever-congressional-bill-regulating-the-fashion-and-clothing-industries-6a905982d372

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

The fashion and clothing industries have come under controversy, and not just because Kim Kardashian just wore Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy birthday, Mr. President” dress to the Met Gala.

Context

Rather than an hourly wage, garment workers are often paid per garment. The going rate is usually around 2 to 6 cents per piece, which generally translates to at most $6 per hour.

California recently enacted the Garment Worker Protection Act, making it the first state to mandate such employees earn an hourly wage, rather than getting paid per garment, applied to companies with 26+ employees. The bill passed the state Assembly by 50–19 and the state Senate by 26–10.

Another issue in the industry, though hardly exclusive to it, is offshoring and moving production facilities overseas.

What the bill does

The FABRIC (Fashioning Accountability and Building Real Institutional Change) Act would:

  • Mandate the federal minimum wage for garment worker employees.
  • Institute a 30% tax credit for such businesses that relocate production back to the U.S.
  • Require both garment manufacturers and contractors alike to register with the Labor Department.
  • Create a new Undersecretary of the Garment Industry position within the Labor Department.
  • Allow fines of up to $50 million for any violations.

The bill would not apply to any solo practitioners, like an individual tailor or seamstress who runs a single-employee business.

Sponsors claim it’s the first bill in congressional history explicitly aimed at the fashion, garment, and clothing industries, rather than a bill aimed at businesses writ large which just happens to include those industries.

It was introduced in the Senate on May 12 as S. 4213, by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the bill aims to equalize and protect employees in one of the great American industries.

“Protecting the garment workforce is a sustainability issue and has direct impacts on environmental sustainability, community development, gender equality and economic prosperity,” Sen. Gillibrand said in a press release. “This legislation would thread the needle of protecting workers’ rights, putting an end to abusive pay rates, and ensuring equitable compensation for garment workers, while also making historic investments in domestic garment manufacturing so we can not only make American, but buy American.”

What opponents say

Opponents, like the industry lobbying associations American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) and Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) criticized the bill for some provisions it did include, and others it didn’t include.

“The legislation raises important policy considerations that need to be further refined so that they are effective and accomplish their intent,” the AAFA and CDFA wrote in a joint statement emailed to GovTrack. “For example, joint liability provisions should be structured so that they focus only on the work for which brands are directly responsible.”

Critics also noted that the bill apparently doesn’t address one of the major issues in the fashion industry: the Bureau of Prisons’ Federal Prison Industries program, which pays prisoners 90 cents an hour to produce products including clothing, generating $500 million in annual sales.

“Other measures to promote domestic manufacturing should also be considered,” the statement continued. “For example, U.S. apparel manufacturers that have to import foreign yarns and fabrics that are not made domestically often have to pay high tariffs on those desperately needed materials. Also, surprisingly, many U.S. apparel makers compete at a disadvantage to factories that are accorded special preferences by the U.S. government and shielded from domestic labor laws as they operate in federal prisons.”

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted three cosponsors: two Democrats and one independent. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Finance Committee.

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This article was written by GovTrack Insider staff writer Jesse Rifkin.

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