Belgian giant Solvay to shut two UK and US plants

Solvay Composite Materials in Wrexham, UK.

Belgian chemical giant Solvay announced Friday it will close composite materials plants in Britain and the United States and cut around 570 jobs, 20% of its global workforce.

The firm had already lost business due to reduced production of the troubled Boeing 737 MAX airliner and is now facing "significant headwinds" because of the coronavirus epidemic, it said.

Factories will cease production in Manchester, northwest England, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, and total company headcount will be reduced worldwide.

"The decision to part company with employees is never one that we take lightly," Solvay chief executive CEO Ilham Kadri said, in a company statement. "The steps we are taking are necessary to adapt to the dynamic environment and ensure Solvay is competitive and strongly positioned to meet our customers' needs as growth eventually resumes, which it will."

Solvay is one of Belgium's biggest firms and employs 24,100 employees in 64 countries, reporting €10.2 billion ($11 billion) in net sales in 2019.

But many of its clients are feeling the pain of the coronavirus slump, and US planemaker Boeing has seen many orders from the 737 MAX cancelled following two deadly crashes.

"The current crisis has triggered an industry-wide reduction in expected demand in civil aircraft build rates for the near term," Solvay said.

The company has said at the end of February that it planned to cut 350 jobs around the world by the end of next year, but will now "accelerate existing efficiency plans."

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