Rubber

Why Natural Rubber Must be Kept in the EU’s Anti-Deforestation Law

Why Natural Rubber Must be Kept in the EU’s Anti-Deforestation Law

Mighty Earth is deeply concerned that natural rubber has been excluded from the European Commission’s forthcoming anti-deforestation law to tackle EU-driven deforestation and ecosystem loss. Due for release in December 2021, the EC’s proposed new supply chain anti-deforestation law will apply to a list of key Forest and Ecosystem Risk Commodities (FERCs) – which until recently was anticipated would cover key known forest-risk commodities[1], including natural rubber.

However, a leaked impact assessment [2] shows rubber is omitted from the latest list of commodities covered by the new EU law. Instead, the leaked impact assessment shows the EU law will only apply to beef, palm oil, soy, wood, cocoa and coffee.

We believe this would be a major omission and a huge set-back in the fight against deforestation, biodiversity loss, and climate change. The briefing sets out the reasons why failure to include rubber under the new law poses a serious and significant threat to millions of hectares of tropical forests, ecosystems and habitats in Southeast Asia, West Africa and beyond over the coming decade.

Rubber booms cause mass deforestation

Fuelled by a boom in market demand, rapid expansion of rubber production since 2000 has had a devastating impact on millions of hectares of rainforests and wildlife habitats, as well as the human rights of hundreds of local and Indigenous communities.

Recent studies found over five million hectares of tropical forest were cleared in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa for rubber plantations between 2003 and 2017.[3] Similarly, a 2018 study [4] for the European Commission attributes some three million hectares of forest loss in Southeast Asia – including Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam – directly to an increase in rubber cultivation since 2000.[5] In Cambodia, for example, over half a million hectares of tropical forest was cleared and replaced with rubber trees between 2001-2015 – accounting for 23% of Cambodia’s gross forest loss.[6]

To highlight the devastating impact of poorly regulated rubber expansion, groups like Greenpeace, Global Witness, Oakland Institute and Mighty Earth have documented harrowing evidence of widespread deforestation, forced evictions, illegal logging, livelihoods destruction, harassment, human rights abuses, and biodiversity loss linked to the expansion of rubber plantations in numerous tropical countries, including Cambodia, Cameroon, Laos, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

Rubber demand set to boom by a third by 2030

Most natural rubber is used in auto tyres (about 70% of the total), but rubber is used in thousands of ways, from engineering and industrial applications, to boots, mattresses, condoms and latex gloves. Following a lull over recent years and a sharp contraction under Covid-19, global demand for natural rubber will soon exceed pre-pandemic levels [7] and is forecast to jump by a third by 2030. Based on industry figures, the latest International Rubber Study Group (IRSG) forecasts show global natural rubber demand is set to boom by 33 percent by 2030 – up from 12.7 million tonnes in 2020 to 16.9 million tonnes in 2030.[8] Similarly, global consumption of natural rubber is forecast to jump by 28% over the decade to 2030.[9]

Major deforestation predicted

Alarmingly, academics say millions of hectares of forest clearances are predicted as rubber demand rises, and warn of severe biodiversity and major species losses – including increased extinction risks for a host of extinction-threatened amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles.[10]

To give a sense of the scale of the threat posed to forests, ecosystems and biodiversity, experts estimated in 2015 that 4.3–-8.5 million hectares of additional rubber plantations were required to meet rising demand by 2024,[11] while industry estimates in 2018 found 2.5--3.9 million hectares of additional land area will be required to meet rising demand by 2027.[12]

While the bulk of the additional demand for natural rubber will go to booming Chinese and Asia-Pacific markets,[13] consumption in the EU is still highly significant (some 318 million auto tyres were produced in European plants last year)[14] and global forecasts show EU consumption of natural rubber for auto tyres is set to rise steadily by 12% over the decade to 2030 – up from 742,000 tonnes in 2020 to 834,000 tonnes in 2030.[15]

Rubber was always considered a FERC

The EC’s decision to drop rubber from the EU’s anti-deforestation law has no logical basis. Rapid expansion of rubber production in Southeast Asia and other tropical areas has long been identified by the EC and other key actors[16] as one of the top seven agricultural imports into the EU associated with deforestation and forest degradation.

As early as 2013, a major report [17] for the EC on imported deforestation identified rubber as an important contributor to deforestation, while a key follow-up study for the EC in 2018 [18] and a subsequent EC Communication report to the EU Parliament in 2019 included rubber alongside palm oil, meat, beef, soy, cocoa, coffee, maize and timber as key agricultural imports into the EU associated with deforestation and forest degradation.[19]

Most importantly, the European Parliament passed a Resolution [20] on 22 October 2020 which recommended the European Commission draw up a legal proposal to tackle imported deforestation and instructed the EC that the proposal should cover all commodities that are most frequently associated with deforestation, degradation of natural forests and conversion and degradation of natural ecosystems.[21]Significantly, the Resolution instructed the EC that the list of commodities covered by the law should “comprise at least palm oil soy, meat, leather, cocoa, coffee, rubber and maize.” [22]

Restore rubber to EU anti-deforestation law

The EU plays an absolutely central role in the global tyre and rubber supply chain. Seven out of ten of the top global tyre and rubber corporations have their headquarters or key tyre plants based in Europe – including Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear, Hankook, Michelin, Pirelli and Sumitomo. [23] With global rubber demand set to boom by a third by 2030, the threat of millions of hectares of rubber-related deforestation and degradation of carbon-rich ecosystems is real, and extremely urgent. That’s why we’re urging the EU to restore rubber to the EU’s anti-deforestation law and pressing the EU to act now to help drive out deforestation and human rights abuses from global rubber supply chains and consumer markets.

[1] European Commission (2019) Communication from The Commission to the European Parliament, The Council, The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests, 23 July 2019

[2] "Leaked EU anti-deforestation law omits fragile grasslands and wetlands', The Guardian, 14 September 2021, Jennifer Rankin

[3] Wang M H et al (2020) Reconciling Rubber Expansion with Biodiversity Conservation, Current Biology 30, 3825-3832, 5 October 2020

[4] COWI (2018) Feasibility study on options to step up EU action against deforestation, Final Report, COWI A/S, Denmark

[5] COWI (2018) Feasibility study on options to step up EU action against deforestation, Final Report, COWI A/S, Denmark

[6] Grogan K et al (2019) Unravelling the link between global rubber price and tropical deforestation in Cambodia, Nature Plants, Vol 5, January 2019, 47-53

[7] IRSG (2021) World Rubber Industry Outlook: Review and Prospects, July 2021, International Rubber Study Group: Singapore

[8] IRSG (2021) World Rubber Industry Outlook: Review and Prospects, July 2021, IRSG: Singapore

[9] IRSG (2021) World Rubber Industry Outlook: Review and Prospects, July 2021, IRSG: Singapore

[10] Wang M H et al (2020) Reconciling Rubber Expansion with Biodiversity Conservation, Current Biology 30, 3825-3832, 5 October 2020

[11] Warren-Thomas E et al (2015) Increasing Demand for Natural Rubber Necessitates a Robust Sustainability Initiative to Mitigate Impacts on Tropical Biodiversity, Conservation Letters, July/August 2015, 8(4), 230-241

[12] IRSG (2018) World Rubber Industry Outlook: Review and Prospects to 2027, June 2018, IRSG: Singapore

[13] IRSG (2021) World Rubber Industry Outlook: Review and Prospects, July 2021, IRSG: Singapore

[14] ETRMA (2020) The European Tyre Industry Facts and Figures 2020 Edition, European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers’ Association (ETRMA): Brussels

[15] IRSG (2021) World Rubber Industry Outlook: Review and Prospects, July 2021, IRSG: Singapore

[16] See: WWF (2021) Deforestation Fronts, Drivers and Responses in a Changing World, WWF: Gland, Switzerland; WRI (2020) Estimating the Role of Seven Commodities in Agriculture-linked Deforestation: Oil palm, Soy, Cattle, Wood Fiber, Cococa, and Rubber, Technical Note, October 2020, World Resources Institute: Washington DC, United States

[17] EC (2013) The impact of EU consumption on deforestation: Comprehensive analysis of the impact of EU consumption on deforestation, Final Report, Technical Report 2013, 063, European Commission, DG Environment: Brussels

[18] COWI (2018) Feasibility study on options to step up EU action against deforestation, Final Report, COWI A/S, Denmark

[19] European Commission (2019) Communication from The Commission to the European Parliament, The Council, The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests, 23 July 2019

[20] European Parliament resolution of 22 October 2020 with recommendations to the Commission on an EU legal framework to halt and reverse EU-driven global deforestation 2020/2006(INL), see: https://bit.ly/2YLl5pV

[21] European Parliament resolution of 22 October 2020 with recommendations to the Commission on an EU legal framework to halt and reverse EU-driven global deforestation 2020/2006(INL), see: https://bit.ly/2YLl5pV

[22] European Parliament resolution of 22 October 2020 with recommendations to the Commission on an EU legal framework to halt and reverse EU-driven global deforestation 2020/2006(INL), see: https://bit.ly/2YLl5pV

[23] ETRMA (2019) European Tyre & Rubber Industry Statistics, Edition 2019, ETRMA: Brussels


Hat Yai sustainable rubber workshop

Learning how to 'do' sustainable rubber

July 27, 2021

Read the Report

As part of Mighty Earth’s continuing efforts to advance sustainability within the natural rubber sector, we are thrilled to be co-publishing a new practical guide for rubber industry actors, entitled “Sustainable Natural Rubber: pathways, policies and partnerships”.

The guide is based on expressed demand from stakeholders following a workshop of the same title, held in Hat Yai, Thailand, in September 2019, which was co-hosted by Mighty Earth, Rainforest Allianceeinhorn ProductsEarthnet Foundation, and the Prince of Songkla University. This event brought together over one hundred rubber farmers, traders, processors, CSOs representatives, government officials, academics, and consumer brand companies to share knowledge and and potential solutions to environmental, social, and economic challenges in the industry.

Like the workshop itself, the guide is a collaborative piece, consisting of four distinct yet complementary perspectives on the proactive steps companies purchasing natural rubber can take to engage with their supply chain. These are just four potential ways out of a long list of courses of action a company may find themselves interested in pursuing. The ultimate goal of this guide is to encourage companies interested in establishing sustainability initiatives to expand their knowledge of potential paths, and further learn how they can best accomplish each route.

Mighty Earth and our partners hope that this resource will equip companies interested in sourcing sustainable natural rubber with additional tools and ideas for doing so.


Lobby group representing Michelin, Goodyear and Continental pressures EU Commission to exclude rubber from deforestation law

A row has erupted between NGOs and the rubber industry following lobbying by the EU tyre and rubber industry association to the European Commission, pressing for natural rubber to be excluded from forthcoming new EU due diligence regulations designed to stamp out deforestation, ecosystem loss and human rights abuses in key global commodity supply chains.

Civil society organisations from Europe, Africa and the US are highly alarmed that rubber dropped out of the list of the Commission’s high forest-risk commodities and urged senior officials to keep rubber in the upcoming regulations. New research published by Greenpeace highlights the role of the industry in pushing for this change.

A key European Parliament resolution adopted in October 2020 had identified rubber as one of the main drivers of deforestation. More recently, on 25 February 2021, the Commission included rubber in a presentation detailing the preliminary list of key forest and ecosystem-risk co commodities covered under the draft EU Regulation.

However, the European Tyre & Rubber Manufactuers’ Association (ETRMA) – whose members  include powerful EU and global rubber and tyre makers such as Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear, Michelin and Pirelli – issued public statements in late 2020 urging European Commission officials to drop rubber from its target list of key forest and ecosystem-risk commodities covered by the EU’s new mandatory due diligence Regulation.

The Greenpeace report shows how ETRMA further argued to the European Commission that rubber is now considered a “low-risk commodity” in relation to deforestation, [1] and instead said it supports a more focused approached to EU policy measures on deforestation and so supports the call for the EU to act on products ‘that have “the most proven impact.”’ [2] The ETRMA conclude that regulatory action to combat rubber-related deforestation instead should be done locally, in producing countries, or at the global level. [3]

The CSOs point out that ETRMA’s stance that rubber is a low forest-risk commodity runs counter to the widely accepted evidence. A major report for the European Commission in 2018 highlighted that an estimated three million hectares of forests were cleared to make way for rubber cultivation in the Mekong region of Southeast Asia since 2000. Environmental groups  such as Global Witness, Greenpeace and Mighty Earth have also documented harrowing evidence of widespread deforestation, illegal logging, human rights abuses, habitat loss, and biodiversity and livelihoods destruction linked to the expansion of rubber cultivation in numerous countries, such as Cambodia, LaosVietnam, CameroonIndonesia and Papua New Guinea.

In response to public indications from senior officials that the European Commission is about to heed ETRMA’s advice and drop rubber from its target list of key forest and ecosystem-risk commodities covered by its new regulation, a global coalition of CSOs have written an urgent open letter to European Commissioner for Environment Virginijus Sinkevičius, urging him to keep rubber in the EU’s deforestation law.

“It’s outrageous that ETRMA has aggressively lobbied the European Commission for rubber to be dropped from new EU regulations designed to stamp out rampant deforestation, ecosystem loss and human rights abuses in global supply chains,” said Dr Julian Oram, Campaign Director for Mighty Earth. “If the EU Commission bows to ETRMA’s lobbying pressure and shamefully drops rubber from its new deforestation law, then we’ll see more deforestation of rainforests, more destruction of ecosystems, and more violations of the rights of local and Indigenous communities.”

Mighty Earth approached ERTMA for comment but, at the time of publication, the lobby group had not responded.

The EU plays a key role in the global rubber supply chain: a quarter of global rubber production goes to the EU and five of the six largest global tyre and rubber corporations – Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear, Michelin and Pirelli – have headquarters or key markets in the EU. With global demand for rubber products – which is predominantly for auto tires – projected to increase significantly post-pandemic, Governments and corporations need to adopt all the tools, laws and regulations at their disposal to help avert a destructive new wave of rubber-related deforestation in the coming years.


Notes:

[1] In a supporting submission to the European Commission on 10 December 2020 in relation to an EU consultation question about which key commodities contribute to deforestation, the ETRMA said:

“Whilst ETRMA does not have any direct information on the impact of deforestation of the chosen conglomerate of commodities, there are several studies that were carried out by both EU Institutions (European Commission’s public consultation and European Parliament’s EPRS), international organisations (such as FAO) and NGOs (eg. WWF). All of these studies indicate that commodities such as cattle, soybeans and palm oil contribute to the bulk of deforestation (40% according to FAO). Furthermore, the summary report of the public consultation in the context of the Communication on stepping up EU action against deforestation shows that rubber is considered as a low-risk commodity.”

[2] See supporting submission ‘Deforestation and Forest Products Impact Assessment Consultation, Explanation supporting ETRMA’s responses to the questionnaire, 10 December 2020’, which says in relation to the range of products to be covered by the future EU policy measures:

“ETRMA supports the call to act on products that have “the most proven impact”, through specific measures designed to meet the specificities of each products’ value chain, on the condition that such impact is carefully studied in terms of recent and  current developments.” 

[3] In a supporting submission to the European Commission on 10 December 2020, the ETRMA argue against the wider need for EU due diligence regulation of rubber:

“The main issue with the approach taken in this consultation is that it looks for EU actions that should have an impact on countries on which the EU does not regulate and on which the EU has no control on. It is for this reason that the work should be done locally – in producing countries – or globally.”


Contact: Nico Muzi, Mighty Earth, [email protected] or + 32 (0) 484 27 87 91 (m)


Towards Accountability?

While the world watched the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and people globally sheltered in place, companies like Vietnamese rubber and agribusiness giant HAGL Agrico quietly took to destroying lands and forests in Cambodia belonging to Indigenous communities, disrupting ecosystems, and desecrating sacred places in order to use the land for unsustainable mono-cropped industrial agriculture.

One member of the Indigenous Ka Chork ethnic group in Ratanakiri, Cambodia, where most of the destruction took place, described the devastation caused by HAGL:

“The company's investment has affected the burial ground of our people, our farms, streams, ponds, grasslands for raising cattle, and so on. We lost our forest, we don’t have wood to build our houses, or places to look for non-timber forest products. Women in my village do not dare to walk into the forest because they are afraid of the [HAGL] company workers. This year, there was a case where a company worker raped a woman in a nearby village. 

“Currently, we can’t look for natural vegetables, fish, or crabs as before because the company uses chemical pesticides in the plantation which flow into the streams, so when our villagers walk down to the streams, we get rashes on our hands and feet. Since the company came in, our people have become poorer... and many have moved as they are afraid of the company clearing.”

Unfortunately, without strong action from their global business partners – in this case French auto giant Peugeot and other car makers - this story is and could become even more common in the rubber industry: a company with an unrecognizable brand decimates the environment and violates human rights, while their partners, buyers, and those profiting from their destruction can sit on the sidelines of an opaque value chain and wash their hands of any responsibility.

In short, there is a huge accountability gap.

However, one important step towards industry accountability happened this month. In June 2021, the Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR) announced the implementation of a grievance mechanism. This mechanism will provide access to remedy for individuals or groups negatively impacted by members of the platform or GPSNR itself, and will guarantee accountability to membership requirements and principles. This is a huge step forward for the rubber industry as an open, predictable, and just system for processing complaints can help ensure that the over 100 members of GPSNR adhere to supply chain requirements that will protect communities and farmers and advance environmental sustainability.

This significant achievement comes as GPSNR recently celebrated the second anniversary of its founding in March 2019 and, to date, there have been several major accomplishments. These include the passage of a comprehensive set of sustainability and human rights-based policy requirements, the formal inclusion of smallholder representatives from rubber producing countries in the platform and on the Executive Committee, and now, the launch of the grievance mechanism.

While these are all important and signal strong movement forward by the industry, GPSNR has yet to overcome a few critical challenges. One of the biggest of these is a reluctance to move towards supply chain transparency and data sharing that would help identify and solve some of the major environmental and social issues associated with the production of natural rubber, and which make the need for a formal grievance mechanism so great.

To date, GPSNR has not meaningfully increased transparency in the natural rubber industry. While movement towards transparent reporting is a core principle of the Platform (as highlighted in the Founding Members statement), as of 2021, the London Zoological Society’s SPOTT assessment reported that, for example, just 14% of companies they reviewed provided comprehensive detail on how they are supporting smallholders and even fewer have reported clearly where their natural rubber is coming from. Without clear obligations for reporting or commitments to disclose information for public knowledge, it is much harder to identify problems on the ground - such as those experienced by the Indigenous communities in Ratanakiri - or take steps to solve them.

Perhaps companies will get there on their own, but in order to act with the requisite urgency, they will need to feel pressure to take responsibility for environmental degradation and human rights violations – whether by themselves directly, in their supply chains, or by their business partners. This is why GPSNR has high standards for all members of the platform and will need to quickly develop a system to ensure implementation of those expectations.

We believe the GPSNR grievance mechanism can help resolve some issues that arise after the fact, but the goal should be to understand and share enough about corporate supply chains and business practices that GPSNR can help ensure proactive compliance with membership requirements before complaints need to be filed.

For true accountability and to ensure that companies are not just riding the coattails of a platform with “sustainability” in its name, companies must commit to concrete actions that will increase public knowledge of the supply chain, the risks, and the bad actors that are enabling environmental destruction and human rights abuses. The grievance mechanism published this month puts an emphasis on transparency of process and outcome: ensuring that all stakeholders understand how far a complaint has made it through the mechanism, what the findings are, and what actions are being taken. This will allow all parties to have the same information and be able to understand the credit or consequences for actions that need to be taken to remain in good standing with GPSNR. Hopefully, this step will get the industry closer to embracing transparency and enable it to learn from existing concerns.

If we seek to really solve problems in the natural rubber supply chain, like the deforestation and human rights abuses we see in Cambodia and across the rubber-producing world, we need big ambition and a commitment to transparency and accountability.


Mighty Earth submit $1bn ‘Green bond’ application to convert Central Park and Hyde Park into rubber plantations

LONDON – Two of the world’s most famous recreational parks – Central Park in New York and Hyde Park in London – could be razed and transformed into huge new industrial rubber plantations under a proposed $1 billion ‘Green bond’ application submitted today by environmental campaign group Mighty Earth.

US-based Mighty Earth released a set of images including of New York's iconic Central Park, and Hyde Park in London, of their audacious plan to deforest and replace these two historic parks with lines of rubber trees as they submitted their $1bn application to the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI) in London – the body that oversees the booming $1.3 trillion global ‘green bond’ market.

“We’re following in the footsteps of other financiers that have used green bonds to back industrial rubber projects that destroyed rainforests in Indonesia,” said Mighty Earth Campaign Director Alex Wijeratna. “We’re asking the CBI to rubber-stamp a $1 billion ‘Green bond’ to finance the flattening of Central Park and Hyde Park so we can plant thousands of rubber trees.“

“Millions of visitors to these famous parks might be a bit peeved by our rubber reforestation plans,” said Wijeratna. “But we promise we’ll keep a small part of the lake in Central Park intact and leave the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s sprawling Royal pad, Kensington Palace, in Hyde Park, untouched, too.”

Mighty Earth’s images show a scarred and unrecognizable landscape and the potentially catastrophic impact of their outlandish plans to bulldoze and industrially ‘reforest’ the iconic 340-hectare Central Park in New York and 253-ha Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens in London, which are renowned for their abundant trees, lakes, wildlife and natural beauty, and together are visited by over 55 million people each year.

Mighty Earth’s application to the CBI and green bond principles standard setting body the International Capital Market Association (ICMA) is designed to draw attention to the burgeoning issue of ‘greenwashing’ linked to self-labelled green bonds and the failure of the CBI to investigate and respond to Mighty Earth’s formal complaint and allegations of widespread deforestation linked to a $95 million CBI-screened ‘green bond’ on French tire maker Michelin’s 70,716-ha joint venture natural rubber project in the rainforests of Jambi, Indonesia.

Mighty Earth alleged in their complaint to the CBI on March 11, 2021, that over five thousand hectares of rainforest in Jambi – a globally significant biodiversity hotspot, that was home to two forest-dependent Indigenous communities and critically endangered Sumatran elephants, tigers and orangutans – was industrially deforested by a subsidiary of Michelin’s local partner. The complaint claims that Michelin’s knowledge of this deforestation was never publicly disclosed to investors when the bonds were sold to green investors on the Singapore Exchange in 2018, in a bond offering arranged by French bank BNP Paribas and facilitated by financiers ADM Capital.

Mighty Earth call for the $95m bond on Michelin’s rubber project to be struck off and delisted as an official CBI-screened green bond. Mighty Earth have had no formal response from the CBI to date and were recently told by CBI’s CEO Sean Kidney that their complaint about massive deforestation was “not a priority” for the CBI.

“Green bonds are plagued by greenwashing and the Climate Bonds Initiative has absolutely no interest in investigating our highly credible but inconvenient allegations of deforestation linked to Michelin’s flagship green bond-financed rubber project in Sumatra,” said Alex Wijeratna. “We’d like to test the CBI’s willingness to turn a blind eye to the deforestation of precious and iconic green spaces by seeing if they would approve of Hyde Park and Central Park being razed, bulldozed, and replanted with a massive industrial rubber tree plantation!”

About Mighty Earth

Mighty Earth is a global environmental campaign organization that works to protect forests, conserve oceans, and address climate change. We work in Southeast Asia, Latin America, Africa, and North America to drive large-scale action towards environmentally responsible agriculture that protects native ecosystems, wildlife, and water, and respects local community rights. Mighty Earth’s team has played a decisive role in persuading the world’s largest food and agriculture companies to dramatically improve their environmental and social policies and practices. More information on Mighty Earth can be found at www.mightyearth.org/.

Contact: Campaign Director, Alex Wijeratna, [email protected] or + 44 (0)1753 370 824.

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Peugeot Must Act Against Land-Grabs in Cambodia

On June 10, 2021, Mighty Earth, Equitable Cambodia, and Inclusive Development International sent an open letter to Peugeot, a global automobile brand. Despite new leadership and a strong commitment to sustainability, Peugeot has repeatedly refused to publicly condemn land grabbing and environmental damage perpetuated and caused by a subsidiary of their business partner, Truong Hai Auto Corporation (THACO). Recently, mediations restarted between the Indigenous communities and THACO, but so far they have refused to return Indigenous land in Ratanakiri in Cambodia. It is time for Peugeot to hold their partners accountable for land grabs and human rights abuses. Read our open letter to Linda Jackson, CEO of Peugeot, to learn more.

Open to letter to Linda Jackson, CEO of Peugeot.


Looking at Opportunities for Sustainability in Rubber

Sustainable Natural Rubber- Pathways, Policies and Partnerships is being held from 24-26 September 2019 hosted by Rainforest Alliance, Mighty Earth, Einhorn Products, Prince of Songkla University, and Earth Net Foundation, Thailand. RSVP here!

Over a decade ago, when I started working with coconut farmers in Ban Krut, Prachuab Khiri Khan, Thailand to develop an organic coconut value chain, many of these farmers also grew rubber. Despite the work on organic coconut, there was no interest or discussion about sustainable or organic rubber. It didn't seem to merit any interest at the time, in part because rubber is not eaten, and also because it needs to be processed with chemicals to yield rubber-based products such as tires and wetsuits.

Today looks very different than 10 years ago. Many key business stakeholders are beginning to understand the need for sustainability in rubber and are adapting their sourcing policies to address this in their supply chains. The newly established Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber is evidence of this and has brought together the largest number of actors from this sector so far. However, end users outside of the tire industry as well as rubber farmers and tappers remain missing voices in the platform. There are other mechanisms today for sustainable rubber as well. Thai organic coconut farmers who also grow rubber can have their latex certified as part of the “Fair Rubber” initiative. The Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) has taken an early lead in sustainable rubber certification by actively working to engage market players.

These policies and platforms reflect a growing trend of leaders in sustainability looking deeper into their purchasing and supply chains—and this demand is coming from all sides. Consumers want to know more about the brands and products they choose: what it is, where it comes from, and the impact that it has on our planet and its people. Research shows that companies that demonstrate and communicate sustainability leadership in new areas have a clear market advantage, along with other benefits such as secure supply chain, engaged employees, and stakeholder confidence.

This growing interest in more sustainable agricultural and forestry supply chains represents a massive opportunity for positive impact on communities, local watersheds, biodiversity, and national economies. Across commodities, agriculture effects massive areas of land. For rubber alone, over 14 million hectares are cultivated, and there are millions of associated farmers and laborers.

Unless we can link investment in sustainable practices with demand from responsible markets, it is difficult to move toward sustainability or achieve certification. Farmers, particularly small-scale farmers, are on the economic edge, usually laden with substantial debts and facing the constant risks of poor yields and low prices, either of which could lead to failure and bankruptcy. Even without a significant shift in practices, achieving certification adds a cost in time, training, and resources. If major shifts in practices are also needed, this requires an even greater investment and effort.

Much of the initial focus has been on preventing additional deforestation, similar to efforts with oil palm, and these commitments are critically important. However, with low rubber prices in the market for several years now, pressure to clear more land for rubber has been reduced. As such, it is also critically important to look at the management of rubber lands and practices that support biodiversity, watershed and soil health, and carbon sequestration. This must be done alongside consideration of the economics of the supply chain and developing goals that ensure farmers realize financial stability and improved livelihoods through rubber cultivation, regardless of fluctuations in the market and price.

An interesting possibility for improving the ecology and economics of rubber cultivation for farmers lies in exploring how diversity and ecology can be brought back to the millions of hectares that have already been transformed to monoculture. Here we see a huge opportunity, as demonstrated in research from the Prince of Songkla University and the experience of many farmers in Thailand. Both show that rubber can be effectively grown in diverse agroforestry systems to deliver comparable latex yields and much better performance on ecological measures such as erosion, water sequestration, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and microclimate, while providing beneficial secondary yields of other commodities grown on the same land.  This should not be surprising at all, as the rubber tree’s (Hevea brasiliensis') native habitat is in the most diverse forests of the Amazon.

It is critical that we begin transforming the rubber sector and send signals from the market that there is a demand for sustainability managed rubber farms and latex. This is fundamental to the long-term viability of natural rubber overall, as it is apparent that rubber farmers, like many types of farmers, are an aging population. Many farmers do not want or expect any of their children to farm and tap rubber. This perspective is not overly surprising given the low returns and difficult work of rubber cultivation. In addition, the job of a rubber tapper is not always seen as reputable work. These factors can have a negative impact on the future supply of natural rubber, despite the expected growth in market demand for rubber. We have a massive opportunity to improve the livelihoods and labor conditions for rubber tappers, to introduce new methods of management and technologies to improve yields, and to make rubber tapping a more sought-after job.

In truth, we are just starting this exploration for natural rubber and many other solutions are still yet to be developed.   When the key actors and supporters of value chains from farmers to processors, from enterprises to final consumers, work together, and when government agencies and NGOs help facilitate the right environment and provide key support where needed, the potential for rapid and dramatic shifts towards sustainability or even the step beyond sustainability—to regeneration—is frankly amazing.

It is not clear where we will go, but in the next decade we can and will dramatically shift the natural rubber value chain and its impact on our planet to be far more sustainable. If you would like to join us in exploring this potential and discussing some of the solutions proposed at a multi-stakeholder dialogue taking place near some of the most interesting sustainable rubber farming innovation in Hat Yai, Thailand, please contact Margaret Kran-Annexstein ([email protected]).

Michael B. Commons,  Earth Net Foundation, Thailand