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PT Indo Bharat Rayon Viscose Plant, Indonesia


Background: Viscose (or rayon)  has often been marketed as a more ecologically sustainable alternative to polyester because unlike polyester which is made from petrochemicals, viscose is made from cellulose. It is also praised by some fashion brands because it requires less water to produce compared with cotton. Viscose is found in a huge variety of clothes and is used by almost every major fashion brand to some extent. Although not inherently unsustainable, it is the production process of viscose that presents a very problematic story. Basically, wood pulp is extracted from wood, then turned into viscose staple fibre (VSF) and filament yarn through a highly chemical process using carbon disulphide. Viscose production faces a three pronged issue: the risk of deforestation of ancient forests, occupational hazards of factory workers who are exposed to highly dangerous toxins that have been linked to neurological damage, and heavy contamination that results from poor waste management of viscose factories, not only polluting nearby waters and air, but causing widespread illnesses to villagers in the vicinity of factories [1][3].

Indonesia produced 439 billion tonnes of viscose fibre in 2016 [1]. The PT Indo Bharat Rayon plant is the biggest viscose factory in Indonesia and the second largest in the world [1]. It is owned by the Indian conglomerate Aditya Birla, and well known brands that source their viscose from them include H&M (Sweden), ASOS (UK), Marks & Spencer (UK), Tesco (UK), Zara/Inditex (Spain), Levi’s (US) and United Colors of Benetton (Italy) [1]. Indo Bharat Rayon (IBR) “produces viscose staple fibre, anhydrous sodium sulphate and sulphuric acid” [1]. The plant is nearby Citarum river, which has been the centre of many textile factory related pollution disputes ( and about 7km outside Purwakarta city, with several villages surrounding the plant [1].

Mobilisation and Resistance: On 2 January 1999, workers and local residents protested against IBR due to heavy air pollution caused by the Purwakerta plant [2]. It was a violent mobilisation with protesters breaking into the vicinities of the viscose plant, burning down the gate and breaking windows. The protester demanded compensation for the residents who suffer from heavy sulfur gas odours coming from the viscose factory [2]. The nearby PT South Pacific Viscose plant was also attacked on the same date. In March 2011, “Wahana Pemerhati Lingkungan Indonesia (WAPLI), a NGO based in Purwakarta, Indonesia, filed a complaint after IBR illegally dumped coal waste, including fly ash, into what was a lake behind the factory, right alongside the Citarum River.” [1]. IBR was found guilty of these charges in June 2016 and the company was fined approximately  €673,000 with the CEO potentially facing prison time [1]. Despite this legal action, WAPLI argue that IBR have not implemented changes to rectify this situation. Changing Markets investigators observed yellow particles along the Citarum river which are believed to be sulphur waste from IBR. both villagers and NGOs believe IBR is dumping this waste at night when no one is looking [1]. 

Environmental and Health impacts: Investigators from Changing Markets visited the area where IBR was found to have illegally dumped coal waste, which is now largely a rice paddy. This is potentially highly dangerous, particularly as the farmers do not seem to have been informed of the risks of farming on such contaminated land [1]. The Changing Markets investigation team also visited some nearby villages: Kampung Sawah, Desa Cilanap and Kecamatan Babak Cikao. Through interviewing local residents they were made aware that the pollution, which causes a terrible smell also causes locals to get sick. They also found open bags of viscose fibres both from IBR and PT South Pacific Viscose. It is believed that the villagers are employed as “intermediaries” by the viscose companies to wash the viscose in the river (which was seen being done sans protective gear), which poses potentially serious health hazards to the villagers and pollutes the river [1]. Today there seems to be no fishing activity in the Citarum river around these villages as it has become uneconomical, furthermore villagers told investigators that nobody swims in the river anymore either [1].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:PT Indo Bharat Rayon Viscose Plant, Indonesia
State or province:West Java
Location of conflict:Cilangkap, Babakancikao, Purwakarta Regency
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Chemical industries
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Manufacturing activities
Specific commodities:Manufactured Products
Chemical products
Industrial waste
viscose staple fibre, anhydrous sodium sulphate, sulphuric acid.

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Indo Bharat Rayon began operations in Indonesia in 1974, and the Purwakarta plant opened in 1982. The IBR plant was expanded in 2015 to increase plant capacity for viscose staple fibre (VSF) and sulphuric acid. The expansion cost roughly USD $60 million.

Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:02/01/1999
Company names or state enterprises:Aditya Birla Group from India
Indo Bharat Rayon from India
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:WALHI,
Wahana Pemerhati Lingkungan Indonesia (WAPLI)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
Local ejos
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
IBR was found guilty of charges in June 2016 and the company was fined approximately €673,000 with the CEO potentially facing prison time [1]. Despite this legal action, WAPLI argue that IBR have not implemented changes to rectify this situation.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The IBR plant is still in operation and there have been no observations or proof of improvements in their waste management or toxic production processes.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[3] Blanc, P.D. 2016, Fake silk: the lethal history of viscose rayon, Yale University Press, Cumberland.

[1] Changing Markets Foundation 2017, Dirty Fashion: How pollution in the global textiles supply chain is making viscose toxic

[2] World Socialist Website 1999, Workers Struggles: Asia, "Hundreds attack two factories for environmental pollution", 9 January 1999.

Other comments:This sheet mostly draws from the report by Changing Markets Foundation 2017, "Dirty Fashion: How pollution in the global textiles supply chain is making viscose toxic"

Meta information

Contributor:Mariko Takedomi Karlsson, research intern @ EnvJustice, [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:3166



Sulphur contamination in village nearby IBR plant

photo credit: Muhammad Fajar Fauzan for Changing Markets

Villager hanging washed viscose

photo credit: Muhammad Fajar Fauzan for Changing Markets