Indian fabric giant adopts forest policy

linen club textile india
A Linen Club showroom owned by Aditya Birla group in Bengaluru. The Indian conglomerate is one of the major global producers of man-made cellulosic fibers for fabrics, including viscose, which comes from wood pulp. Image: G R N Somashekar/ The Hindu Business Line

One of the world’s largest fabric makers for the fashion industry today announced a policy to exclude fiber produced at the expense of endangered forests, reports Canopy, an environmental group that helped broker the commitment. 

Aditya Birla, an Indian conglomerate with operations in 36 countries and 120,000 employees, accounts for about a fifth of global production of man-made cellulosic fibers for fabric, including viscose which is produced from wood pulp. Its use of viscose made the company a target for environmental groups pushing to curb deforestation in the pulp and paper sector.

Accordingly, the new agreement sends a powerful signal to the sector, according to Nicole Rycroft, Canopy’s founder and executive director. 

Their commitment sets the bar for other viscose producers globally as join the growing movement of fashion brands are eliminating use of endangered forests in their fabrics.

Nicole Rycroft, Canopy’s founder and executive director

“Aditya Birla is a $45 billion revenue company with mills stretching from Purwakarta to Laos, India to China and across to Canada,” wrote Rycroft via email.

“Their fabrics are used widely throughout the fashion industry, ending up in malls and boutiques globally. Their commitment sets the bar for other viscose producers globally as join the growing movement of fashion brands are eliminating use of endangered forests in their fabrics.”

Aditya Birla’s commitment was in part driven by policies adopted in recent years by a number of major fashion brands, including H&M, Zara, and Levi’s.

Kumar Mangalam Birla, Aditya Birla Group’s chairman, said the company was committed to more sustainable practices. 

“We’re committed to avoiding any endangered forest fibre in our products and are excited to help drive innovation in the development of fabrics made from new fibers that reduce the pressure on the world’s natural forests,” Birla said in a statement.

“We and many of our customers in the fashion industry are equally committed to developing sustainable business solutions that help conserve forests and species.” 

The agreement however differs significantly from the deforestation-free policies being adopted in the palm oil and soy sectors in that it doesn’t specifically bar old-growth timber from Birla’s supply chain.

Instead it requires wood harvested in “ancient and endangered forests” to be extracted under a “sustainable forest management system” or as part of “a biotope-conservation program”. That means the company could still buy fiber from companies operating within rainforests and boreal forests. 

Nonetheless, Rycroft says the policy has important implications for the forestry sector, including Toba Pulp Lestari, an Indonesian pulp and paper producer Canopy has been pushing to clean up its supply chain and resolve long-standing social conflict in North Sumatra. 

“Aditya Birla’s global forest sourcing criteria sets a high bar for all other producers to meet,” she said. “This commitment sends a clear message to players like Toba Pulp Lestari, that change is required if they want to stay relevant to the fabric supply chain.”

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