Continental and Yokohama Jump on the Almost-Sustainable Rubber Bandwagon

One week before the launch of a new Global Platform on Sustainable Natural Rubber hatched by tire companies and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), two big players, Continental and Yokohama, have released their own sustainable rubber purchasing policies. While each policy has its strengths, both fall short of the commitments needed to guarantee consumers that the rubber in their tires will be untainted by tropical forest destruction, wildlife habitat loss or human rights violations.

The harvesting of natural rubber is a growing cause of deforestation across southeast Asia and Africa. In order to make way for rubber plantations, primary forests are destroyed and animals like tigers, elephants, and gibbons are being wiped out. At the same time, communities are being driven off the land they have lived on for generations without consent or even notice.

The need for sustainable solutions to meet the rising global demand for natural rubber is urgent. Consumers are demanding that their tires are made with rubber that is ethical and that protects critical forests; and tire companies are taking note. In the last year, industry leaders like Michelin, Bridgestone, Goodyear, and Pirelli have all adopted sustainable natural rubber policies and this week, Continental and Yokohama joined them.

While the adoption of sustainable natural rubber policies is a step in the right direction, both Continental and Yokohama have put forward policies that fall short. Both have their merits: for example, both companies describe the hazards of deforestation and burning of carbon-rich peatlands. Continental includes strong language that demands that human rights are respected and Yokohama insists that their suppliers do not engage in land-grabbing.

However, neither company addresses the importance of curbing greenhouse gas emissions and, critically, both lack timelines for implementation and neglect to include consequences that would ensure that these good-sounding standards would be upheld by suppliers.  Furthermore, both lack a credible and concrete roadmap for ensuring full traceability within their rubber supply chains. Unfortunately, this means that these policies could just be words on paper rather than real agents of change.

The announcement of these two policies back-to-back, a few days before the launch of the Global Platform, is highly significant.  The Platform is being setting up develop sustainability standards for the entire rubber industry. But as currently structured, this Platform will not hold water either. It leaves out crucial stakeholders like NGOs and small-scale farmers from its decision-making body, and looks set to become nothing more than an industry talk-shop. With the majority of tire and rubber companies’ still lacking their own sustainable rubber policies, the Global Platform must have more than a close cabal of industry peers in control if it is to avoid accusations of greenwashing and deliver the transformative standards needed.

Mighty Earth has been working with tire companies to produce progressive rubber buying policies, and have encouraged each to follow an ambitious timeline to stop the havoc being wreaked by rubber as quickly as possible. But with most companies still falling short of what is necessary, we need companies come together in an equitable partnership with civil society, to construct a Platform that can be trusted to develop the standards to badly needed to protect forests, wildlife, and communities from the ravishes of rubber.