Birla Cellulose brings in auditor after pollution claims

brett mathews | 22nd April 2018

MUMBAI – Birla Cellulose, the pulp and fibre business of Indian-based Aditya Birla Group, is to bring in an independent expert to evaluate the environmental impact and sustainability of its operations, including claims made by the Changing Markets Foundation that several of its factories in Indonesia polluted surrounding villages. “If we have made a mistake and the issues highlighted in the report are found to be correct, obviously we will fix them,” Tony Henshaw, chief sustainability officer with the Aditya Birla Group told Apparel Insider. Viscose is the third most commonly used material in the fashion industry, with Aditya Birla commanding a fifth of the global market.

Researchers from the Changing Markets Foundation published a report in February 2018 in which they claimed to have visited viscose factories owned by Birla Cellulose and found that surrounding areas to the factories were characterised by strong smelling and visibly red pollution. Their report also claimed people in surrounding communities to the factories were suffering from health issues while local sources also told their researchers that untreated waste was illegally being discharged into a surrounding river.

The report also claimed that tests carried out had found that an air sample from outside one of the factories contained 125 times the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guideline for carbon disulphide, a chemical used in viscose production.

Henshaw told Apparel Insider that Birla Cellulose has maintained an active dialogue with the Changing Markets Foundation in recent months, meeting and talking with the NGO on several occasions. “We are making progress and it has definitely been a very positive conversation,” Henshaw told us.

Manohar Samuel, president, marketing and business development at Birla Cellulose, told us he expects results from the independent audits to be ready in around three months and that the findings will be shared with key stakeholders in the interests of transparency.

In the wake of the Changing Markets report, Aditya Birla, which has been consistently commended for its environmental record in recent years, issued a statement in which it reaffirmed that it was committed to responsible and sustainable viscose production. To this end, the business outlined a number of steps it would be taking, perhaps the most interesting of which was its commitment – in common with competitor Lenzing – to implement technologies to move towards closed loop production processes to minimise sulphur to air emission to meet the EU Ecolabel standards by 2022.

The company said this is being done in a phased manner for each of the company’s units across four countries: India, Thailand, Indonesia and China. The business said it has already been working on these internally as well as collaborating with leading technology providers to achieve the EU Eco label norms.