Rubber

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.


New Mighty Earth Report Finds Agroforestry Drives Sustainability in Rubber Supply Chain

Switching over from monocultures to more diverse systems of rubber agroforestry can drive sustainability in global rubber supply chains and help tackle climate change, finds a new report published by Mighty Earth today (see the summary here).

Mighty Earth’s report, co-authored by three leading academic scientists, found that rubber agroforestry – a set of mixed farming systems involving the production of rubber trees alongside a variety of other plants, crops and livestock – has multiple benefits for smallholder farmers, biodiversity and the environment, including:

    • Better support for smallholder incomes and livelihoods
    • Better support for smallholder food and nutrition security
    • Social advantages for smallholder farmers and rubber tappers
    • Improved soil health and water quality, and other beneficial environmental, biodiversity and climate resiliency outcomes.

The new study for Mighty Earth assessed over 800 peer-reviewed scientific reports and papers on rubber agroforestry worldwide and was conducted by a team from the Global Agroforestry Network (GAN). Natural rubber – which is used in products from tires to condoms – is predominantly grown in the tropics in Asia. About 90% of natural rubber is produced by smallholder family households, largely in monoculture systems where rubber trees occupy all the available farmland.

However, monoculture rubber poses increasing environmental and climate problems, including widespread pollution and degradation of soils and water resources, rampant deforestation, habitat loss and ecosystem destruction, as well as risks to rubber tree health from disease, pests and drought, plus growing vulnerability to climate change. In addition, smallholder households face potentially catastrophic threats to their livelihoods due to fluctuations in global rubber prices.

Drawing on a geographically diverse set of studies on low-input rubber agroforestry and intercropping systems, ranging from China to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and Cote d’Ivoire, the authors reveal the multiple livelihood, environmental and climate benefits of rubber agroforestry, and highlight the need for greater support and incentives from Governments, the rubber industry, researchers and civil society to accelerate the widespread scale-up of agroforestry through smallholder farmer-to-farmer networks.

Please find a GPSNR report launch webinar and slide deck presentation on Mighty Earth's agroforestry report findings.

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Notes: The report, “Rubber Agroforestry, Feasibility at Scale” was authored by:

  • Maria Wang Mei Hua, Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures and Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, UK
  • Dr Eleanor Warren-Thomas, School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University, UK
  • Associate Professor Dr. Thomas Cherico Wanger, Sustainability, Agriculture & Technology, Westlake University, China; Agroecology, University of Göttingen, Germany

industrial deforestation at Michelin's RLU project in Jambi, Indonesia.

Mighty Earth Urges Climate Bonds Initiative to Delist $95M Michelin "Green Bond" Amid Allegations of Industrial Deforestation

LONDON – Today, environmental campaign organization Mighty Earth announced that it had filed a formal complaint with the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI) calling for Asia’s first corporate “Sustainability Bond” – which had been issued in 2018 for investors in French tire maker Michelin's natural rubber joint venture in Indonesia – to be delisted from CBI’s booming global green bond markets.

The complaint argues that the $95 million bond, which financed Michelin’s RLU project, a 70,716-hectare natural rubber plantation in Jambi, Indonesia, should be ineligible for CBI listing because green investors were not informed of serious allegations of environmental destruction and social conflict around the project. Mighty Earth alleges that thousands of hectares of tropical rainforests and critical conservation habitat were industrially deforested by the local subsidiary of Michelin’s Indonesian partner prior to the start of their project, and that Michelin knew of the destruction but failed to provide this information to investors.

“We are urging the Climate Bonds Initiative to immediately investigate our complaint and – if evidence of large-scale deforestation is supported by our findings – to immediately delist this questionable bond,” said Mighty Earth Campaign Director Alex Wijeratna. “It’s inconceivable that a bond tied to the widespread, deliberate, and undisclosed industrial deforestation of thousands of hectares of precious rainforest and conservation habitat could ever be labelled as ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’.”

Michelin signed the RLU joint venture shareholder agreement with its Indonesian partner, Barito Pacific, in December 2014. Mighty Earth’s complaint includes new evidence showing that Michelin officials knew before that time that their partner’s key local subsidiary – a company called PT Lestari Asri Jaya (LAJ) – was independently identified as one of the main causes of land clearing and deforestation on its concessions in Jambi. However, this crucial information was not disclosed to green bond investors in any publicly available due diligence reports, nor was it disclosed in the Tropical Landscapes Finance Facility (TLFF I) Sustainability Bond “Offering Circular” which was arranged by French bank BNP Paribas, facilitated by ADM Capital, and offered to investors in March 2018.

Conforming to voluntary Green and Sustainability Bond Principles and Guidelines monitored and overseen by the CBI, bonds labelled as “sustainable” have exploded in popularity in recent months, with companies and governments expected to issue a record $650 billion in green debt this year, according to Moody’s. Other analysts predict the global green bond market could hit €2 trillion by 2023.

A second round of funding to finance the next phase of the RLU project – worth $120 million – is due to be offered to green bond investors imminently.

As part of the complaint filed with CBI, Mighty Earth included its recent satellite image-based report – Complicit, An Investigation into Deforestation at Michelin’s Royal Lestari Utama Project in Sumatra, Indonesia (2020) – which found 2,590 ha of irreplaceable tropical rainforest, biodiversity hotspots, and conservation habitat in Jambi – a huge area the size of central Paris – was industrially deforested in a key area (known as ‘LAJ 4’)  during a 33-month period prior to start of the joint venture in 2015. The report found this industrial deforestation was in areas identified by WWF Indonesia as home to two vulnerable forest-dependent Indigenous peoples,  and which form a critical habitat for endangered Sumatran elephants, tigers, and orangutans.

Key green investors such as &Green fund, Unilever, and PG Impact Investments have invested millions in the 15-year TLFF I Sustainability Bond, though it is unclear if they were told of these deforestation concerns prior to investing. “No green investor wants to invest in a sustainability or green bond project that failed to disclose large-scale industrial deforestation or the deliberate destruction of tropical rainforest that was once home to endangered Sumatran elephants, tigers and orangutans,” said Wijeratna. “The Climate Bonds Initiative should swiftly investigate and delist the TLFF I Sustainability Bond in order to restore trust and integrity in global green bond markets.”


The Unfashionable Truth About Unsustainable Latex Rubber

By Phelim Kine 

Might latex rubber become a fashion industry go-to alternative to animal leather and plastics?

Perhaps.

But does latex rubber merit a leading design magazine’s praise as a “noble and natural material that does not kill animals, does not cut down trees” and that represents “a sustainable alternative to animal and petroleum-based materials”?

Absolutely not.

The fact is that the natural rubber industry is marred by widespread environmental and labor rights abuses that fashion designers and textile producers should be extremely wary of.

The proportion of the global natural latex rubber supply consumed by the global fashion and textile industry is dwarfed by the more than 70 percent of the total consumed by the global tire industry. But an ongoing surge in popularity of rubber in the fashion and textile industries will likely increase the proportion of natural rubber consumed by that sector.  Fashion designers and textile firms should understand the grim toll that the latex rubber they consume could inflict on the environment and communities – primarily Southeast Asia and West Africa - from where the vast majority of natural rubber is sourced and processed.

Natural rubber production has been a driver of tropical deforestation, which is a major accelerant of climate change. Land area under cultivation for the Hevea brasiliensis rubber tree nearly doubled from 2000 to 2018 to an area equivalent to the size of Germany, constituting a drastic erasure of tropical rainforest in producer countries.

The statistics documenting this destruction are stark.  As of 2019, a  total of six countries - Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, India and China – are the source of 95% of global production. African forests and their biodiversity have also suffered due to rubber production and expansion in countries including Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Liberia. In recent decades, rapid expansion of rubber monocropping has decimated Southeast Asia’s precious rainforest. In some countries in the Mekong region of Asia, deforestation for rubber accelerated faster than anywhere else on the planet.

Driven by a boom in commodity prices in the mid-2000s, and aided by regional governments willing to grant large land concessions to agro-industrial investors, rubber planting has spread massively in the Greater Mekong region. In Cambodia, the area under rubber cultivation has leapt nearly nine-fold from 44,000 hectares in 2003 to 384,350 hectares in 2016. Analysis of deforestation data in Cambodia indicates that 2.2 million hectares – 24% of Cambodia's primary forest cover – were destroyed between 2001 and 2015, with almost 25% of that former rainforest cleared for rubber plantations.

Monoculture rubber plantations also decimate biodiversitythreatening the habitats of endangered wildlife such as tigers, gibbons, orangutans and Asian elephants.  Analysis of the impacts of the conversion of tropical rainforest to rubber monoculture plantations indicates that populations of animal species key to pollination such as birds and bats as well as agricultural pest-devouring carabid beetles plunge by up to 76% on forest converted to rubber plantations. Researchers at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom have warned that the unrestrained growth in natural rubber plantations at the expense of tropical rainforests “could substantially exacerbate the extinction crisis in Southeast Asia.”

Air and water pollution are also serious byproducts of natural rubber production. A Mighty Earth investigation into the environmental impact on local communities of the Hévécam rubber plantation in southern Cameroon revealed an array of human impacts caused by pollution from the rubber plantation and processing plant. They included the poisoning of local surface water sources, pesticide run-off and latex spills that have caused a toxic mixture of chemicals to enter local waterways. Community members around the rubber plantation blame this pollution for numerous instances of water-related illnesses and disease, including stomach aches, diarrhea, and even several deaths.

The natural rubber industry has also become synonymous with abuses of the rights of local and Indigenous communities in areas where forests are converted to monoculture rubber plantation. Those abuses include illegal land grabbing and labor rights violations including the alleged

unlawful use of child labor in rubber production in Indonesia and Liberia. One of the biggest challenges to sustainable natural rubber production by smallholder farmers is the low prices paid to them for their rubber and latex. Low rubber prices obviate incentives for smallholder farmers  or even larger multinational corporations, to invest in new systems, technologies and practices that can improve the sustainability of rubber cultivation and reduce its environmental footprint and harms.

The solution to these evils is the development of sustainable rubber productions supply chain that respects the environment as well as the rights and health of workers and local communities. In March 2019, a number of companies representing rubber producers, processors, global tire makers, and auto manufacturers founded a joint platform along with a group of nongovernmental civil society organizations, including Mighty Earth, with the goal of making the rubber industry fully sustainable. The new body, the Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR),  has since worked collaboratively to devise concrete environmental and human rights measures to transform the industry toward a more sustainable rubber production model, Many GPSNR members support  agroforestry as a solution to the problems in the industry, a farming technique that enables forests to remain biodiverse, protecting natural habitats and providing alternative sources of income for farmers. This includes analysis and redevelopment of existing production systems in order to increase transparency, traceability and accountability throughout natural rubber supply chains. The GPSNR is also developing company policy guidance for sustainable rubber procurement as well as improved capacity building for both large and small-scale growers.

The GPSNR offers hope that in future the natural rubber industry can purge itself of its links to deforestation, climate change, biodiversity loss, land grabs and toxic pollution. The fashion industry should support these efforts, including by garment and footwear companies adopting their own commitments to only buy natural rubber and latex from sustainable sources.  Without such concrete steps, conscientious fashion designers should be under no illusion about mostly specious claims of latex rubber’s nobility and sustainability.

Phelim Kine is the senior director Asia at the Washington, D.C.- based environmental campaign organization Mighty Earth and former deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.


Is Nothing Sacred?

Is Nothing Sacred?

January 8, 2021
A
spirit mountain and burial site known as Patu Mountain – that is a place of worship and sacred to local Indigenous communities in Ratanakiri in northeastern Cambodia was recently cleared and bulldozed by Vietnamese rubber company Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL). The company’s majority investor, THACO, builds and assembles vehicles in Vietnam for major global auto brands such as Mazda, Kia, Hyundai and Peugeot. 

Indigenous people in Muoy and Inn villages in Ratanakiri were recently heartbroken to find that rubber agribusiness HAGL had partially cleared the sacred Patu Mountain, bulldozed and filled in the nearby Ansang and Rok Creeks, and fenced off important wetland areas that are traditionally used by local villagers for foraging for wild vegetables. “The Patu spirit mountain is a sacred place,” says Rochom Byun, a community representative from Muoy village. “Right now it is being destroyed. The Spirit will be angered, causing us to become sick. We have lost part of our tradition. Where can we go to pray?”  

The badly destroyed sacred Patu Mountain and two creeks were areas earmarked as part of a deal brokered by a World Bank watchdog in 2015 for the return of 742 hectares of Indigenous customary land to 17 Indigenous villages in Ratanakiri that had earlier been misappropriated by HAGL and its subsidiaries 

HAGL has a disastrous record of land grabbing and deforestation, and this latest episode is the second bout of destruction within the past nine months. Under the cover of Covid-19, in spring 2020, HAGL brazenly cleared culturally important spirit mountains, hunting areas and burial grounds of Indigenous communities in Ratanakiri.  

A coalition of five civil society organisations, including Equitable Cambodia, Highlanders Association, Cambodian Indigenous Youth Association, Indigenous Rights Action Movement and Inclusive Development International, recently publicly called out HAGL for its latest clearances. This latest act of destruction is a crystalclear example of the company’s dishonesty and its lack of respect for the agreements struck with the local Indigenous community, says Eang Vuthy, Executive Director of Equitable Cambodia. We appeal to the [Cambodian] Government to take action in order to stop HAGL from further land clearance and provide remedies for the cultural harms caused to the local Indigenous peoples.” 

Mighty Earth is calling on HAGL Agri to respect its previous commitments to return the land wrongfully taken from the Indigenous communities in Ratanakiri. Mighty Earth also believes that HAGL’s largest investor, THACO, and its global business partners including Mazda, Kia, Hyundai and Peugeot have a responsibility to ensure that HAGL respects the rights of the affected Indigenous communities, and to ensure that their land is returned, reparations made, and local forests, waterways, and culturally important sites are swiftly restored.


Progress Update on Cameroon Rubber Accord - October 2020

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In the summer of 2019, Mighty Earth published a report documenting deforestation, community grievances, and human rights abuses at the Hévécam plantation of the world’s largest rubber company, Halcyon Agri, in southern Cameroon. Prior to the report’s publication, Mighty Earth met Halcyon for a negotiation with  two local Cameroonian NGOs, Appui pour la Protection de l'Environnement et le Développement (APED) and Centre pour le Développement et l'Environnement (CED), to present our findings and secure a commitment from the company to undertake forest restoration and community reparations on Halcyon’s Cameroon plantations, as well as improving sustainability standards throughout the company’s global operations. An Accord was reached and signed by all parties to the negotiation.

Pursuant to the August 2019 Accord between Mighty Earth, APED, CED and Halcyon Agri, the update below provides a summary of our understanding of the most recent progress made by the company to implement its commitments to address historic, ongoing and emerging issues at its Hévécam and Sudcam rubber plantations in Cameroon, and reforms of its operations worldwide.

In July 2020, it was also brought to Mighty Earth’s attention that there had been a latex spill related to Halcyon operations in Cameroon. This spill, and Halcyon’s response, is also covered in the update below.

In one key domain, Halcyon went beyond the Accord by becoming the first rubber company to welcome EU regulation and an EU law to ban deforestation and human rights abuses entering supply chains.

General Update on Progress with the Accord

Since the publication of our Restoration and Reparations report, and the subsequent Accord with Halcyon, Mighty Earth and our partners have been tracking the company’s progress in implementing the corrective measures outlined in the agreement. We have met in person and virtually with company representatives several times to review and assess progress made on the Accord, and gaps remaining. Since our investigation and Accord, Halcyon has ceased all deforestation in Cameroon and implemented a No Deforestation policy for its worldwide operations. Regarding other elements in the Accord, progress has been made although some points have been held up by COVID-19.

Details on progress toward the agreed steps as of July 2020 are as follows:

1. The Cameroon Sustainability Council: The CSC, which previously had not developed an appropriate membership, has now been set up with a tiered structure, balancing smooth decision making with broad inclusion from local Cameroonian civil society, leaders from Indigenous groups and other communities, industry, and government. The Council presented its work to the largest national association of 50 local groups working on human rights and the environment, called the Plateforme Forêt et Communauté (Community & Forest Platform or CFP), and invited them to vote for their representatives to sit on the Council. They were also charged with helping lead on the invitation of community leaders affected by deforestation for rubber. The selection of affected community leaders was done with a balance of Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders, and undertaken with open processes and extensive consultations.

The Council has recently met and begun to operate. Now with local civil society and affected community leaders included, outreach has begun to invite international groups with strong expertise in Cameroonian environmental and human rights issues, to join as advisors or members.

We look forward to the continued development of this council, the inclusion of international civil society, and to the Council pushing for zero deforestation rubber at a national level, in a way that is supportive of and synergistic with zero deforestation palm oil and zero deforestation cocoa initiatives for Cameroon.

2. Individual and community complaints collected and organized in a grievance mechanism: Legacy issues from Cameroonian communities on the ground have been logged by the company through extensive consultations with local communities. This was done in a process of community consultations starting in Hévécam and then in Sudcam areas, conducted in local languages and with the help of leading local NGOs. All legacy issues and grievances emerging from the consultations have been logged and categorized in a master-list, and prioritized depending on their level of urgency. These are in the process now of being addressed by the company, with participatory input from local communities and NGOs. The remedies to the grievances regarding the Cameroon operations are to be handled in 2020/21.

Halcyon has now developed dispute resolution and online & offline complaints/grievance mechanisms, details of which can be found online. The system which is now established covers any grievance regarding global operations, not only Cameroon.

In Cameroon, in addition to the online grievance system, there are now informal systems in place at a local level for oral reporting regarding new grievances to the local company representatives, or local NGOs (which then communicate with the company). These oral processes are in the process of being formalized, especially given literacy concerns.

There is still continuous work to be done to ensure that people in local communities have continued ability to effectively raise grievances (in Cameroon and worldwide), which Halcyon must then address as soon as possible.

Recent Latex Spill near Kribi demonstrates both progress and room for improvement

In early July, on the way to Kribi, a coastal port town in Cameroon, a truck belonging to one of Halcyon's contractors carrying latex from the Hévécam plantation spilled its cargo. The latex leaked into the Eboundja River, which flows directly into the sea, polluting the soil and water and severely affecting neighboring fishing communities. After hearing about this spill from the local contractor, it seems that swift action was taken by Hévécam to clean up the spill and compensate people in the communities impacted by incident.  However, according to our local partner APED, there is still room for improvement in the responsiveness of the company. Although the company responded quickly, those affected were upset this happened, and wanted better community consultation about how such events could be prevented in future. The incident was also not recorded on the online incident dashboard/list. Going forward, Halcyon should ensure that their incident or grievance dashboard or mechanism records all key cases as well as complaints lodged against the company or its contractors, so that affected individuals, communities and the company’s wider group of stakeholders understand and are satisfied by the process. Transparency and accountability are key to effective resolution of incidents and it is critical that the local and international community can all see where Halcyon is meeting engagement expectations.

3. Problematic ‘Cahiers de charge’: One of the primary legacy issues that haunt local people in and around the Hévécam plantation are the old “Cahiers de charge” agreements between the company and local communities that were drawn up years ago by local officials. Local communities interviewed felt that the Cahiers de charge had largely been disregarded and promises in them broken covering a variety of issues. Many of these issues raised were addressed through the dispute resolution/grievance processes of gathering on the ground concerns, cited in #2 above. While many of the issues raised by communities concerning these Cahiers de charge in recent consultations are being addressed through the dispute resolution/grievance processes, continuous work must be done on an ongoing basis to continue to rebuild trust with the communities.

4. Water: Cleaning up polluted water sources was a top priority issue identified in both the Mighty Earth investigation with APED, and subsequent grievance-gathering consultations between villages and the company.

  1. The company has acknowledged that there were issues around effluent quality.
  2. Their new factory in Sudcam Cameroon has treatment systems targeting zero effluent.[1] The system has already been built at the new factory, and will be operational by Q4 2020.
  3. Plans have been drawn up to establish a closed loop water treatment mechanism for Hévécam
  4. Halcyon’s Cameroonian closed loop systems for rubber processing to end effluents going in rivers will resemble the ones now operational in 17 of their Indonesian operations.
  5. Halcyon is reviewing additional such mechanisms for other geographies.
  6. In our latest dialogue with Halcyon, Mighty Earth stressed that there should be a priority on testing of rivers and installation of boreholes for clean water supply provided to all affected communities, to which the company agreed.
  7. Halcyon has committed to helping clean up rivers by changing its pesticide use on its plantations to avoid chemicals winding up in local waterways. Reducing pesticide application is now being continuously addressed, according to the company. The recent Halcyon sustainability-linked loan facility with Deutsche Bank was contingent on reduction in chemical pesticides per hectare, with targets and Key Performance Indicators specified in the loan and to be measured every year. Mighty Earth will request data on this to track reduced usage over time, particularly in relation to products with the highest and most persistent levels of toxicity to humans and wildlife.
  8. Mighty Earth will continue to push Halcyon to reduce all pesticide use on its direct and indirect rubber supply worldwide.

5. Traceability and transparency: Ensuring supply chain transparency is a vital first step for stopping deforestation, human rights abuses, and labor issues in any supply chain. Since the Accord, Halcyon has moved toward greater traceability and transparency for global operations through the Zoological Society of London Sustainability Policy Transparency Toolkit (ZSL SPOTT), a supply chain transparency assessment tool. SPOTT assessed multiple natural rubber producers and processors – including Halcyon – on the public disclosure of their policies, operations and commitments to environmental, social and governance (ESG) best practice. Each company received a percentage score and a ranking as a measure of its transparency in relation to ESG risks. Halcyon is engaging in SPOTT group-wide, for all 12% of the world’s rubber trade that the company controls, not only Cameroon sourcing. Halcyon was rated at 69.6%, the second-best performer in the ZSL SPOTT rubber commodity ranking. A note below this blog reviews the elements that are covered by SPOTT for rubber. Mighty Earth will continue to push Halcyon to improve its traceability and transparency on all direct and indirect rubber supply worldwide, largely through ZSL SPOTT.

6. Indigenous rights: There is still much work to be done on the issue of Indigenous Peoples’ rights, given the legacy of decades of serious, widespread abuses. Civil society and Halcyon must support the government, which must undertake work at the national and local level to ensure Indigenous representation, civic inclusion, and rights like birth certificates, citizenship papers, and land and village denomination rights. Halcyon should form partnerships and work together with government and civil society to ensure the needs of affected Indigenous communities are addressed.

7. Equity in employment: The inclusion of equity for local people, including Indigenous People, and women at all levels of employment in the company’s Cameroon plantations was a concern brought forward in Mighty Earth’s initial investigation. The company has promised to address this issue and has since been collecting data on the current state of affairs (which Mighty Earth looks forward to reviewing), as well as revising management practices. Halcyon must continuously improve equitable hiring and retention practices.

8. Supporting smallholders in Cameroon: In developing their smallholder outgrower program, Halcyon has worked with Proforest on environmental criteria assessments, and with APED and APIFED on community engagement. The smallholder program will ensure ‘No Deforestation’ for all operations. It launches next year. Mighty Earth will continue to engage with the company on the inclusivity of this program, particularly around inclusion of local stakeholders, and Indigenous and gender inclusiveness and equity.

9. Zero deforestation: Halcyon has committed to completely stop deforestation on all its plantations, including the ones in Cameroon. Following recent discussions with the company, as well as with local civil society partners, and satellite map analysis of Cameroon, Mighty Earth believes that these commitments are currently being upheld.

Halcyon has also committed to ensuring that its rubber sourcing outside of Cameroon is also not linked to deforestation, including the company’s supply chains in the Mekong region (which includes Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam). Mighty Earth is awaiting further reporting and verification from Halcyon on progress in ensuring deforestation-free rubber across all of its supply chains in Asia, including the complex issue of deforestation within indirect supply originating from smallholder rubber farmers. Halcyon’s work to de-linking from sourced rubber connected to possible deforestation includes the launch of its Sustainable Sourcing Policy developed by Rainforest Alliance.

10. Community Forest in Cameroon: As part of its No Deforestation commitment, Halcyon agreed not to touch the remaining forested land in the newer concession areas, but rather to convert this land to a community forest, empowering local forest-dependent communities, including Indigenous communities, to become stewards of the land. Rather than give these areas back to the government, which could risk the forest being granted as a concession to another company that could seek to exploit it, this land will be held and managed as a community forest, through a model to be determined by local people, with the help of Cameroonian civil society organisations. A plan for the forest was drafted, and the final decision on the management of the community forest land bordering the Dja Faunal reserve is being determined by the Cameroon Sustainability Council which includes local NGOs and local affected community leaders. The Council voted on a “Sudcam and Communities co-management land with communities-controlled use. Reasons for this are

  • Opportunity for co-management/participatory management of the area with communities
  • Sudcam has long term lease of the forest and therefore Sudcam co-management should be acceptable
  • May not require any complex process with government if this is presented as Sudcam leading with communities’ support
  • The management plan that will be developed will be done in a way that it excludes logging but serves both Sudcam conservation interest and communities’ use
  • Provides potential for exploring PES for communities in the future
  • Government may not able to grant logging permits (sale of standing volume) to logging companies in the forest area.
  • It may not require gazettement because it is part of Sudcam concession
  • Management plan and prescriptions can go as far as the lease period for Sudcam

 

Overall, Halcyon has taken vital and encouraging steps toward forest protection, community engagement, responsiveness, and addressing current and previous grievances. Nonetheless, the company still has a long journey ahead to make its operations in Cameroon and worldwide fully sustainable. The continued inclusion of local stakeholders, particularly Indigenous People, will be key to continuing progress going forward. Mighty Earth remains committed to working with the company to ensure that all elements of the Accord are advanced.

 

 

 


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European Parliament Urges the EU to Stop Deforestation

Today, the European Parliament adopted a legislative initiative report urging the European Commission to propose a strong law to ensure products sold in the Union are deforestation-free and don’t cause human rights abuses.

Nico Muzi, Europe Director of environmental NGO Mighty Earth, applauded the vote:

“For too long, deforestation around the world has been driven by consumption right here in Europe,” he said. “But Europeans are increasingly demanding change and seeking assurances that the food they buy isn’t worsening climate change, destroying forests or accelerating mass extinctions. Today’s vote shows that their political representatives are listening. It’s high time for the European Commission and major companies to do the same.”

The EU is responsible for over 10 percent of global deforestation through the imports of commodities such as meat, soy, dairy, palm oil, cacao, coffee and rubber. The European Commission has opened a public consultation to tackle deforestation caused by EU consumption. Mighty Earth has joined the #Together4Forests campaign along more than 100 NGOs urging the European Commission to pass strong regulation to ensure only deforestation-free products are sold in the bloc. So far more than 250,000 people have joined the movement calling for deforestation-free products.

The report adopted today, drafted by MEP Delara Burkhhardt, calls for mandatory due diligence to make sure products sold in the Union are deforestation-free and do not cause ecosystem destruction (e.g. savannah, peatlands, mangroves) or human rights abuses. The report covers all businesses, including banks and investment funds, to prevent the use of Europeans’ savings to bankroll deforestation. The report also introduces a clear system of civil liability to sanction corporations that bring deforestation products to the EU.


European Consumers Demand Sustainable Natural Rubber: Survey

New poll underscores urgency for companies to switch to sustainable natural rubber

WASHINGTON, DC – A recent YouGov poll conducted on behalf of Mighty Earth has revealed high levels of European consumer concern over the risks to tropical forests and the global climate posed by unsustainable methods of natural rubber production. The survey also highlighted European consumer preference for rubber sourced from environmentally sustainable sources and production methods.

“These findings are somewhat surprising given that rubber is not as widely known as a driver of deforestation as other tropical commodities, such as palm oil and cocoa,” said Heather Weiss, Senior Associate at Mighty Earth.

Natural rubber is derived from latex sap tapped from rubber trees, which grow in tropical climates. As demand for latex has soared in recent years, rubber tree plantations have encroached into areas of rainforest that are home to millions of Indigenous peoples, as well as a rich abundance of plant and animal species. Aside from their intrinsic ecological value, tropical forests are also a vital regulator of the Earth’s climate.

Key survey findings:

  • When asked “How important is it to prevent rubber plantations from expanding into tropical forests and Indigenous Peoples’ lands?”, an average of 71 percent of consumers surveyed in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the UK expressed that this was either “extremely” or “very” important to them.
  • When then asked to rate their level of concern about the potential climate change impacts of rubber-driven deforestation on a scale of 1-10 (with one being ‘not at all concerned’, and 10 being ‘extremely concerned’), 54 percent of consumers across the eight countries registered a level of concern of between 8 and 10.
  • Nearly eight in ten consumers (79 percent) surveyed also indicated guarantees that products are not linked to deforestation or human rights abuses would influence their brand choices, and half of those (40 percent of consumers overall) say this would be the case even if the brand providing such guarantees costs a bit more. This despite the economic shockwaves caused the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“Consumers in Europe clearly feel strongly about the threat of unsustainable rubber production to forests, Indigenous communities and the global climate. Unfortunately, the rubber industry is still lagging behind other sectors in addressing these concerns. This poll should motivate companies that use rubber such as tire, auto and shoe companies to speed up their efforts to source 100 percent sustainable natural rubber,” said Weiss.

Not only are consumers concerned about where their rubber comes from, they want policymakers to step forward and support sustainability, especially when it comes to COVID-19 economic recovery packages. When asked, 54 percent of people polled are in favor of conditions on bailout packages for automobile and tire companies. They want these bailout packages to ensure public money is not used to purchase rubber linked to deforestation.

Regarding import laws, those polled adamantly supported the imposition of laws that stop companies from importing goods linked to deforestation or human rights abuses into Europe, with almost three-quarters people in favor (72 percent) of such a law.

The results of the European consumer survey indicates that, as awareness of sustainability issues in the rubber industry grows, unsustainable natural rubber is increasingly becoming a reputational risk for consumer-facing brands. This echoes how consumer knowledge of environmental abuses linked to the palm oil sector in the 2000s and 2010s prompted widespread adoption of production and supply chain sustainability mechanism by companies producing and buying palm oil.

“If we are serious about fighting climate change, we need everyone on board to protect tropical forests and indigenous land rights. Companies should listen to their consumers and publicly commit to sourcing sustainable natural rubber,” said Weiss.

 


Methodology: This survey has been conducted using an online interview administered to members of the YouGov Plc panel of individuals who have agreed to take part in surveys. Emails are sent to panelists selected at random from the base sample. The e-mail invites them to take part in a survey and provides a generic survey link. Once a panel member clicks on the link they are sent to the survey that they are most required for, according to the sample definition and quotas. (The sample definition could be "US adult population" or a subset such as "US adult females"). Invitations to surveys don’t expire and respondents can be sent to any available survey. The responding sample is weighted to the profile of the sample definition to provide a representative reporting sample. The profile is normally derived from census data or, if not available from the census, from industry accepted data.

YouGov plc make every effort to provide representative information. All results are based on a sample and are therefore subject to statistical errors normally associated with sample-based information.

For further information about the results in this spreadsheet, please email [email protected] quoting the survey details.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 10336 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 25th - 31st August 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted to have equal representation across all adults (aged 18+).

Countries surveyed: Netherlands, Denmark, France, Germany, UK, Belgium, Norway, Spain


Photo credit: Yoga mat by Juan Miguel Agudo, Shoe Soles by Kaithleen Gonzalez, Condom by Charles Deluvio, Tires by Frank Albrecht via Unsplash; Composite by Mighty Earth.


Report: Michelin Covered Up Industrial Deforestation by its Indonesian Partner in "Eco-Friendly" Rubber Venture

Available in Français, Bahasa Indonesia

New report claims world’s largest tire company currently seeking millions of additional dollars from investors to restore forest that its own business partner destroyed

WASHINGTON, DC – A new report released today by environmental campaign group Mighty Earth alleges that Michelin, the world’s largest tire company, was complicit in and covered up industrial-scale deforestation of over 2,500 hectares of rainforest in the run-up to the launch of its flagship  ‘eco-friendly’ sustainable natural rubber joint venture project in Sumatra, Indonesia. The project, undertaken in partnership with a company described as ‘within the Barito Pacific Group’, is currently seeking an additional $120 million in investment from green financiers.

Evidence in the new report shows some 2,590 ha of rainforest – over seven times the size of New York’s Central Park, or equivalent to the size of central Paris – was industrially deforested by subsidiaries of Michelin’s Indonesian joint venture partner in a 33-month period to January 2015 to make way for natural rubber plantations in the flagship rubber, wildlife and conservation-focused Royal Lestari Utama (RLU) Project in Jambi, Sumatra. Of this total, Mighty Earth also found 1,298 ha of rainforest was industrially deforested in a Wildlife Conservation Area, and which is now planted with thousands of rubber trees under the RLU Project.

Situated adjacent to the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in central Sumatra, these globally significant, wildlife and nature-rich tropical rainforests are home to two forest-dependent Indigenous communities – the Talang Mamak and Orang Rimba – and provide critical habitat for endangered Sumatran elephants, tigers and reintroduced orangutans.

France-based Michelin Group is the world’s largest tire company, and natural rubber is the key ingredient in the vehicle tires that it manufactures and sells worldwide. The RLU Project has since gone on to attract financing from Asia’s first $95 million corporate sustainability ‘Green bond’, as well as public funds from the Norwegian, UK and US governments, and is imminently slated to receive further financing from a second $120 million green bond.

“This is a major deforestation scandal,” says report author Alex Wijeratna, Campaign Director at Mighty Earth. “Our evidence shows thousands of hectares of wildlife-rich rainforests were industrially deforested in Jambi in the run-up to the agreement of the RLU Project in late 2014. Michelin knew about this terrible forest destruction, they didn’t do enough to stop it, and instead chose to provide green cover to the project in order to attract green bond investors that have since sunk millions of dollars into the scheme.”

Michelin publicly announced its 88,000-hectare joint venture RLU Project in May 2015, with an Indonesian company later officially described as ‘within the Barito Pacific Group’. At the time, Michelin said the Jambi concession area was “…ravaged by uncontrolled deforestation”, blaming outside culprits such as encroachers, migrants and organized criminal groups.

In contrast, Mighty Earth’s report alleges that it was Michelin’s joint venture partner itself – RLU's subsidiary on the ground known as PT Lestari Asri Jaya (LAJ) – that perpetrated much of this destruction through industrial forest clearance, particularly within a block of the concession known as LAJ 4. The new publication, Complicit: An Investigation into Deforestation at Michelin’s Royal Lestari Utama Project in Sumatra, Indonesia, shows that, in April 2012, there were 3,966 hectares of intact forest covering almost the entire case study area within LAJ 4. By the time the RLU joint venture project began in January 2015, just 138 hectares of that forest remained. Analysis by Mighty Earth of high-resolution satellite images points to large-scale rubber planting replacing this natural forest.

Mighty Earth has been in talks with Michelin and RLU in Indonesia about its research in Jambi since September 2019, and has requested several key social and environmental due diligence documents and reports conducted prior to the project launch to be made publicly available. The companies have repeatedly turned down Mighty Earth’s requests, despite the fact that public funds have been used to back the project.

The campaign group did manage to view one of these confidential pre-venture assessments, and insist it confirms that Michelin was told what was happening on the ground in Jambi at the time.

"Mighty Earth has seen a confidential report commissioned by Michelin that shows the company knew deforestation in the PT LAJ concessions was partly the result of land clearing carried out by PT LAJ itself,” says Wijeratna. “The report includes geo-tagged photos of LAJ bulldozers clearing land and forests next to the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park, but it’s unknown if Michelin ever shared this information with donors, funders, or green bond investors."

“Public and private investors in these new so-called ‘green bonds’ or ‘sustainability bonds’ have so far pumped nearly $100 million into the RLU Project in Indonesia in good faith, and will soon be asked for $120 million more,” says Wijeratna. “We’re calling for an independent investigation to get to the bottom of the murky business during the run-up to this so-called green rubber project, and believe the second ‘green bond’ offering shouldn’t go ahead until all the facts about what happened in Jambi are in the public domain.”

The opaque due diligence and community consultation processes also continue to have ongoing social ramifications in Jambi. “Farmers reported land tenure conflicts with RLU’s local subsidiary on the ground,” says Fenna Otten from the University of Göttingen’s department of Human Geography, who conducted field research in nearby Muara Sekalo village in 2017. “Villagers said they had no choice but to leave their land to the company. They were pushed off and felt powerless. Michelin shouldn’t gain green bond finance and public praise for this sham of a sustainable development project.”

In mid-September, local communities again protested what they say are unfair landgrabs carried out to establish the RLU project, holding a demonstration in Tebo, Jambi.

“You can’t stop deforestation and land grabbing unless you know who’s responsible,” says Wijeratna. “It’s part of a broader transparency problem with Michelin and the rubber industry as a whole. Michelin won’t even reveal what companies it sources its rubber from. If Michelin is to live up to its stated zero-deforestation and human rights aspirations, it needs to come clean about what happened in Jambi, and use its industry leadership position to become a champion for greater transparency across the whole rubber supply chain.”


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Can Agroforestry Provide a Lifeline for Struggling Rubber Farmers and Threatened Forests?

Rubber trees in Hat Yai, Thailand, Photo by Wutiporn Pakdi (นายวุฒิพร ภักดี) 

Climate disruption: an existential threat for smallholder farmers 

Amidst the horror and uncertainty of a pandemic, the climate disaster is still unfolding and it effects are being felt around the world. 

Climate change is happening, and its impacts are experienced around the world at various tempos. The frequency and intensity of fires, severe storms, heat waves, and floods are accelerating. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center tweeted that every month of 2020 has either been the warmest or second warmest on record across the globe.” This faceless menace of climate change has become a personal threat to people living in vulnerable front-line communities disproportionately burdened with its impacts on their livelihoods and well-being.  

Perhaps foremost amongst these often-forgotten individuals at the sharp end of a changing climate are small family farmers, or smallholders. For them, agriculture is not only their main source of income, but also of their food security. As a warming atmosphere intensifies the world’s weather patterns, it also wreaks havoc on soils and crops, creating a truly existential crisis for millions of smallholder households around the world who rely on their environments to make a living  

One part of the world where this threat is exemplified is in the Greater Mekong; a region that includes southern China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. For millions of smallholders in this region, changing climatic patterns are profoundly impacting the cultivation of traditional food and cash crops, to the extent that their very viability is at stake.   

Risky rubber 

Among the most threatened of these cash crops is natural rubber, which is derived from latex tapped from the tree species Hevea brasiliensis. Rubber farmers produce around eighty-five percent of the world’s natural rubber through their small, family-run enterprises whose land holdings commonly cover no more than a few hectares, with the rest grown on industrial plantations.(i)  Around ninety percent of rubber is grown in Asia, with an increasing amount coming from the Mekong region. Only until recently, World Agroforestry reported rubber as the most rapidly expanding tree crops within mainland Southeast Asia.(ii)  Farmers and their families in the region face the brunt of human-induced climate disruption because they depend directly on the environment for their survival. Many will suffer through heat, floods and corrupt government policies and unfair industry practices, while others will feel compelled to change their crop completely or leave the land altogether to swell ranks of the region’s already overburdened mega-cities 

An Eco-Business article covered the climate change impacts Dr. Sara Bumrungsri, a rubber farmer and researcher, experienced on his land. He reported that, “In the last few years in southern Thailand, we have had no rain for 90 days. I have seen young rubber trees and trees that are over 10 years old dying. Intensifying wet and dry spells are destructive to farmers livelihoods; Dr. Bumrungsri observed that 5 percent of rubber trees in Southern Thailand have died, consequently leading to farmers producing less yields and receiving significantly less income.(iii) These vulnerabilities are compounded by the rubber sector being affected by a 40% drop in global prices since 2016, as well as quarantines and other restrictions during Covid-19 more recently. (iv) The projected losses in production also threaten the global natural rubber value chain. This includes but is not limited to the automobile and medical supply industries, which are facing supply shortages and are key in producing vehicle tires and latex gloves from this raw material. Yet, while large global companies can absorb these economic shocks, smallholder households are much less able to do so. 

Agroforestry: a pathway to resilience  

In order to survive, the agricultural practices adopted by smallholder rubber producers in the Mekong region (and beyond) will need to become resilient to climate change. Rather than dealing with droughts and floods as they come, farmers may now have to respond to climatic changes proactively, in ways that will alter the way they farm irrevocably. Farmers urgently need innovations that will allow them to produce enough to support themselves and provide industry with a sustainable supply of agricultural raw materials for an ever-growing global demand of products 

As demand and interest grows in sustainable natural rubber, Mighty Earth, is working hard to ensure there are industry-wide solutions that can help to reduce and eliminate deforestation - a direct contributor to climate change - while enhancing the livelihoods of rubber farmers along these supply chains.  

One such solution – or rather, set of solutions – are agroforestry systems. Put simply, agroforestry involves the cultivation of trees alongside other crops, or with livestock. There are numerous different types of agroforestry systems, which provide an array of agroecological benefits. Agroforestry commonly increases on-farm biodiversity, strengthens soil composition, provides microclimatic control, and reduces damage from pests and diseases that attack crops, including those that affect tree crops such as rubber.  Because they more closely mimic natural ecosystems – and because they tend to be more effective at protecting soil structure and moisture retention – agroforestry systems also tend to be more resilient to extreme weather events.  

 

Rubber Agroforestry Farm in Thailand, Photo by Mighty Earth

Agroforestry also has important socioeconomic benefits. Long before monoculture practices replaced traditional rubber cultivation systems, integrated farming methods provided both an environmental and economic opportunity for smallholders; cultivating multiple crops alongside rubber trees allowed for more sources of income and higher land productivity. Smallholder farmers, most of whom live with a high degree of financial uncertainty, can diversify their household incomes from agroforestry by diversifying their products.(v) This spreads risk temporally across seasons and reduces reliance on income from a single commodity – a critical benefit in the case of rubber, which goes through cycles of price peaks and troughs. The rediscovery of these traditional principles, coupled with the application of scientific understandings of how different tree-crop (and tree-livestock) create particular agroecological synergies, means that agroforestry is now undergoing a resurgence of interest, in an era when its benefits may be most keenly felt. 

Smallholders cannot do this alone. In order to secure rubber farmers labour rights and livelihoods when shifting from monoculture towards a more sustainable integrative farming method, financial and technical support is needed. Other stakeholders, such as governments and rubber-dependent firms can support farmers by adopting sustainability policies and actively implementing them by supporting farmers and the uptake of agroforestry as a solution. Further, governments can create clearer language to secure the land tenure rights of smallholders which will encourage and enable farmers to adopt more long-term sustainability initiatives, like agroforestry, on their own.  

The Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR) was established to develop and maintain sustainable natural rubber standards in the industry. Among the platform’s list of stakeholders are the world’s largest tire companies, rubber manufacturers and processors, and other users who ultimately have the most power in driving the direction of whether natural rubber production standards will remain stagnant or more towards truly sustainable and ethical solutions that will benefit the entire value chain. Agroforestry is more than adopting a policy: It’s an ethos that encourages a climate-resilient, socially equitable supply chain. If GPSNR and other multi-stakeholder platforms are promoting to protect ecosystems and human rights, then advocating for those heavily affected by climate change – particularly farmers- must become a more urgent priority.  

The time is now for farmers and industries to work together to reduce irreversible risks and losses set by climate change. Agroforestry is a step closer to a sustainable transformation in the natural rubber sector. 

Sources  

(i) Zengkun, F. (2020, April 15). Smallholder farmers: If you want to save forests, pay more for sustainable rubber. Retrieved August 18, 2020, from https://www.eco-business.com/news/smallholder-farmers-if-you-want-to-save-forests-pay-more-for-sustainable-rubber/

(ii) Chin, N. (2020, February 03). Drought, deluge, disease: How should the natural rubber industry respond to climate change? Retrieved August 18, 2020, from https://www.eco-business.com/news/drought-deluge-disease-how-should-the-natural-rubber-industry-respond-to-climate-change/

(iii) Ibid.

(iv) Addressing the Impact of COVID-19 on Natural Rubber Smallholders. (2020, April 29). Retrieved August 18, 2020, from https://gpsnr.org/news-publications/addressing-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-natural-rubber-smallholders

(v) Joshi, Laxman & Wibawa, Gede & Akiefnawati, Ratna & Mulyoutami, Elok & Wulandari, Diah & Penot, Eric. (2006). Diversified rubber agroforestry for smallholder farmers – a better alternative to monoculture.


After Vote, Mighty Earth Hails Important Progress in Rubber Industry

Global Platform on Sustainable Natural Rubber adopts strong measures that will improve industry’s sustainability and accountability with successful implementation

WASHINGTON, DC – The General Assembly of the Global Platform on Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR) has just overwhelmingly approved new resolutions that embrace firm commitments to sustainability standards, improve representation within the Platform, and ensure accountability for member companies.

The new measures will enable the equal participation of smallholder farmers in the Platform, pave the way towards the establishment of an effective grievance mechanism, and set out a strong set of policy commitments for member companies to stop deforestation and human rights abuses.

Member companies will be required to adhere to a set of policies that ensure critical human and environmental rights standards including ending deforestation, land grabbing, workers’ rights abuses, the use of harmful chemicals, and more.

“We are happy to see these positive steps forward by the natural rubber industry,” said Julian Oram, Senior Director at Mighty Earth and member of the working group that developed the policies. “But the proof will be in the pudding. Companies need to work together in partnership with smallholder farmers to develop plans to implement these policies quickly so we can end major deforestation and human rights abuses.”

“Demonstrating commitment to the implementation of these policy components will ultimately determine whether or not GPSNR succeeds,” Oram said.

Mighty Earth welcomed the GPSNR’s strong endorsement of a measure to create a grievance mechanism, which will now be delegated to the Executive Committee for design and implementation.

“The adoption of a transparent and accessible grievance mechanism to ensure communities have access to remedy when companies fail to live up to their commitments is the next key step for GPSNR,” said Margaret Kran-Annexstein, Director at Mighty Earth and member of the GPSNR Executive Committee. “These sorts of mechanisms – and the accountability they create – can transform industries if implemented successfully. We are looking forward to working with our colleagues to ensure that GPSNR is a platform that truly eradicates deforestation, human rights abuses, and smallholder poverty from rubber supply chains.”

Mighty Earth also hailed the successful measure to include smallholders as a new category of members. “Representing 85 percent of rubber production, smallholders must have a seat at the table, although such a move is, unfortunately, uncommon in multi-stakeholder initiatives,” said Oram, who also serves as the co-chair of GPSNR’s smallholder representation working group. “We are proud that GPSNR will now include their voices on an equal footing.”

Rubber plantations are a growing driver of deforestation worldwide, particularly in Southeast Asia and Western Africa, accelerating climate change and destroying the habitats of endangered animals including tigers, gibbons, and elephants. Industrial plantations also often violate the rights of forest-dwelling communities and Indigenous peoples. Forced displacement, land grabbing, and human rights abuses frequently accompany the establishment of rubber plantations in areas of tropical forest, while smallholder farmers are currently paid extremely low prices for their rubber. Mighty Earth has documented the impact of the rubber industry on the natural environment and human rights in Southeast Asia and Africa, and called on tire companies like Bridgestone, Goodyear, Continental, Michelin and Pirelli to produce transformative rubber-buying policies that will stop deforestation and exploitation in rubber producing countries as quickly as possible. To date, at least nine companies have issued such policies, though many gaps remain.

First launched in March 2019, the GPSNR is a collaboration between rubber companies, major tire brands, carmakers, civil society organizations, and smallholder farmers that seeks to address the rubber industry’s lagging sustainability efforts. These disparate members of GPSNR work collaboratively to devise concrete measures to transform the industry, a process that at times can be fraught with difficulties. Mighty Earth and other organizations within the civil society caucus had spent recent months working with member companies to ensure the adoption of policy requirements that are flexible enough to be applicable to businesses at different points in the natural rubber supply chain, while still ensuring a high bar for common sustainability standards across the industry.

“Collaborations between advocacy organizations and the industries they seek to reform must strike a delicate balance to keep companies at the table while still holding them accountable,” said Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz. “The measures adopted by the rubber industry today show what happens when stakeholders get it right, and suggest that the GPSNR can be a real driver in the fight to protect forests and the rights of local communities. At a time when so many governments around the world are failing to take the actions needed to stop environmental destruction, we take some comfort in the knowledge that corporate engagement and accountability can still yield meaningful results.”


Mighty Earth Sends Strong Message to Car Companies Ahead of Crucial Rubber Industry Vote

As members prepare to vote on several key resolutions at the annual General Assembly of the Global Platform on Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR) on September 23, Mighty Earth has urged car companies to reaffirm their commitments to a sustainable rubber industry. Key resolutions up for endorsement include ones that would enable the equal participation of smallholder farmers in the Platform, establish an effective grievance mechanism, and set out a strong set of policy commitments for member companies to stop deforestation and human rights abuses. Ultimately, these commitments are what will ensure that GPSNR can make the transformational change it set out to achieve.

However, following indications that not all companies within GPSNR fully understand the imperative of making such shared commitments, Mighty Earth sent the following letter to the auto manufacturers in GPSNR, including BMW, Ford, GM, Renault, and Toyota. Their support, as well as that of all GPSNR members, is crucial to creating a truly sustainable and ethical rubber industry.

 


 

 

September 10, 2020

Dear GPSNR OEM Member Companies,

As we enter into the voting period prior to the second General Assembly of the Global Platform on Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR), Mighty Earth is deeply concerned about the future of this platform. Several critical resolutions are in the hands of the General Assembly and will determine whether or not our collective endeavor is one that truly embraces transparency, accountability, smallholder participation, and responsibility to local communities.

Over the past eighteen months, we at Mighty Earth have strived to engage consistently and productively in the discussions which led to the drafting of these resolutions, including through our active participation in the Strategy & Objectives Working Group, Smallholder Participation Working Group, Capacity Building Working Group, Policy Toolkit Working Group, and the GPSNR Executive Committee.

While we did not always get everything we want, we recognize that there were some compromises that needed to be made in order to make the big picture progress that is sorely needed in the rubber industry, which, as you are no doubt aware, still lags considerably behind sustainability efforts in other comparable tropical agriculture and forest commodities. Thus, we are supportive of all of the resolutions that are before the General Assembly, and encourage all of our colleagues in GPSNR to vote in favor of their adoption.

While we were dismayed at the belated intervention of OEM members in expressing qualms over the proposed member policy commitments, Mighty Earth, and the civil society caucus as a whole, has nonetheless spent considerable time and effort working with the OEM member companies to figure out solutions that would enable the adoption of required Policy Components which are flexible enough to meet the needs of auto manufacturers, while still ensuring that there will be collective accountability and singularity of purpose for all sectors within the rubber value chain.

Given these efforts, and the willingness shown by civil society members to make difficult compromises, we are concerned that there is still not a concrete commitment from your member category to honor the worked out agreements by voting to approve Resolution 2f, which would endorse the Policy Framework and member requirements.

As we and other CSO members have outlined, setting clear commitments and defining priorities is a critical first step for any transformational change. If we do not know what we are trying to collectively achieve, efforts to develop implementation guidance for companies will be haphazard, disjointed, and ultimately futile. From Mighty Earth’s perspective, it would not be a good use of our capacity to invest in the creation of plans to assist member companies in achieving sustainable natural rubber supply chains if we cannot be sure whether members have the willingness or ambition to adopt those plans in good faith.

While we believe that some OEMs agree with the importance of goal-setting, and have the same level of ambition to transform the rubber industry as we do, it is essential that the category as a whole demonstrate its support by approving the Policy Framework resolution. If the OEM (or any other) member category were to veto this key resolution, we would interpret this as a deliberate attempt to weaken the ambition of GPSNR. To be clear, without the adoption of shared policy requirements, we would view GPSNR as a failing endeavor, and would communicate this accordingly, citing our disappointment in the stakeholders that are responsible for blocking progress.

When GPSNR was launched, we decided to take a leap of faith and chose to engage with companies that had stated their commitment to truly transformational supply chain action. OEMs were, at the time, critical to setting the foundations of this venture on a firm footing. We believed that this platform could rise to the challenge of eradicating deforestation, human rights abuses, and smallholder poverty from rubber supply chains. We remain hopeful that we can continue in this direction, but rely on the willingness and good faith of the OEM member category to support this vision, through a vote in favor of all of the resolutions. We all agreed to a set of 12 Principles in March 2019, let us take the next step towards realizing those by adopting the Policy Components, along with the other key resolutions.


European Tire & Rubber Manufacturers Plan to Put More Vehicles on the Roads in Response to Covid-19

On May 5, 2020, the European Tire and Rubber Manufacturers' Association (ETRMA) published an Action Plan for the EU to kick-start the automotive sector following the Covid-19 pandemic. In response, Mighty Earth Senior Campaign Director Julian Oram released the following statement:

"While we welcome the industry's stated commitment to the European Green Deal, we believe that one of the key demands of the ETRMA's Action Plan could be at odds with such a pledge.

"ETRMA's proposal for an EU-funded vehicle renewal scheme would likely increase car ownership and could pose serious public health risks. Even if coupled with incentives for private owners to trade in older vehicles for newer ones, the overall impact of the program is likely to be more cars on Europe's roads, exacerbating congestion and increasing pollution and emissions. Europe needs to be moving in precisely the opposite direction: looking to reduce private car ownership, boost spending on clean, green forms of public mobility, and cut particulate emissions that could exacerbate respiratory problems for people infected with Covid-19.

"The ERTMA's demand to 'postpone all non-essential public consultations' combined with a call to accelerate the EU's vehicle type approval process 'as quickly as possible' could also set a worrying precedent of bypassing important democratic checks and balances in regulatory oversight and should be strongly resisted by the European Commission.

"EU bailout packages should be strictly conditional on building new, low-carbon economy. Any policy incentives or financial assistance directed towards auto, tire, and rubber companies cannot simply seek to resuscitate thindustry as it was, but must instead help stimulate a green transformation. In the wake of the current crisis, such a transition is more urgent than ever. Mighty Earth will therefore endeavor to work with both policymakers and members of the ERTMA to ensure that short-term measures to support the sector are fully aligned with the longer-term vision of a new Green Deal for Europe."

###

Image: Photo by Sorin Gheorghita on Unsplash


Report: Bridgestone Connected to Ongoing Labor and Environmental Concerns on its Liberia Rubber Plantation

New investigation documents serious ongoing issues at the planet’s largest rubber plantation

Mighty Earth today published the findings of a new investigation documenting serious labor and environmental concerns at the single largest rubber plantation on the planet - the Firestone Rubber Plantation in Harbel, Liberia. The report, A Bridge Too Far? Social and Environmental Concerns in Bridgestone's Liberian Rubber Plantation and a Plan for Remediation,” found several on-going problems, including:

Environmental Concerns

  • Local people complain of contamination of their rivers, creeks and wells due to insufficiently treated effluent discharged from Firestone’s nearby rubber factory;
  • Locals allege that there is serious air pollution and strong ammonia smells during the day;
  • Local fishermen at Owensgrove near the Firestone Liberia factory say there are no fish in the river during the dry season because of Firestone’s wastewater contamination and that their livelihoods are badly affected.

Labor Rights Issues

  • Five key labor union leaders and workers at the Firestone Liberia plantation in Harbel were allegedly unfairly dismissed by Firestone without recourse;
  • A key union leader and a worker were reportedly ordered to leave their company-owned houses after being dismissed and given just 7-days’ notice to vacate, or face eviction;
  • Dozens of Firestone plantation retirees said their Firestone pensions had been stopped abruptly and transferred to the dysfunctional Liberian state pension scheme.

Mighty Earth’s full report highlights Firestone Liberia’s legacy of environmental impacts and controversial labor practices, while providing detailed recommendations for the parent company, Bridgestone, to remedy past problems at the plantation.

“Bridgestone needs to agree to an independent investigation and make amends for their unfair dismissal of the two key union leaders,” said Judy Gearhart, Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum. “The company urgently needs to redouble its commitment to the rights of the rubber plantation workers and affected local communities.”

Firestone Liberia is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Japan-based Bridgestone Corporation, the world’s largest tire and rubber company. Mighty Earth is calling on Bridgestone to ensure that Firestone Liberia fully upholds the rights of workers and neighboring communities and protects and restores the local environment.

“Bridgestone must urgently clean up all the insufficiently treated effluent that has been discharging into local water sources near its Firestone rubber plantation in Liberia,” said Alex Wijeratna, Senior Advisor at Mighty Earth. “In order to make progress towards this and other labor, environmental, and social priorities, Bridgestone should publish a clear implementation plan for their Global Sustainable Procurement Policy. As the world’s largest tire company, they have a real opportunity to be a leader in the industry.”

To support the investigation, Mighty Earth worked with rubber plantation workers and the legal advocacy group Green Advocates in Liberia to document testimonials from local community members in March 2019. This collaboration shed light on current problems as well as the social and economic impact of Firestone’s 94-year presence in Liberia.

“The history of Firestone Liberia is fraught with controversy,” said Goldman Award winner Alfred Brownell. “Unfortunately, the company has never fully reckoned with, compensated for, or apologized to local people for its historical violations of labor and community rights. Documenting these transgressions is the first step toward reconciliation, but the next step is up to Bridgestone. Bridgestone must commit to the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission.”

In a meeting with Mighty Earth in October 2019, Firestone acknowledged that the level of pollutants in local creeks near their rubber plantation in Harbel were still at an unacceptable level. The company informed Mighty Earth that they are installing a new state-of-the-art water treatment system to tackle the pollution.

Firestone has denied all of the labor rights concerns cited in Mighty Earth’s report.

*Photo: Firestone Rubber Factory in Harbel, Liberia


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Stretching the possibilities for a sustainable rubber industry in 2020

The year 2020 has long held a prominent place in the popular imagination. For some, it has been pegged as a staging post for human progress in the modern era, often tied to aspirational global development targets and groundbreaking technological advances. For others, it has portended a dystopian future of post-apocalyptic chaos, ecocide, and the subjugation of humans by AI machines.

In reality, the dawn of 2020 sees the world in a mixed state of affairs. We have seen new technologies enter our daily lives that most of us wouldn’t have dreamt of even a decade ago, facilitating everything from faster communications to better medical treatments. And impressive progress has been made in many parts of the world in the fight against endemic hunger, disease and poverty.

Yet, at the same time, the health of our planet is in a perilous state. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, pushing us ever closer towards a tipping point of runaway global heating. And the Earth’s wondrous biodiversity – upon which we all depend – is diminishing at a catastrophic rate, largely due to human activity. Our increased technological sophistication has arguably not been accompanied with any greater collective wisdom as a species about how we value, respect and manage nature.

One of the critical threats to both natural habitats and the planet’s delicate climate balance is the loss of tropical forests, which are home to roughly half of the terrestrial species on Earth, and act as a massive sink for carbon dioxide.  Although the loss of these precious ecosystems is down to a combination of factors, one of the main drivers of deforestation has been the production of forest and agricultural commodities including palm oil, soy, beef, cocoa, cane sugar and natural rubber.

Complex supply chains have been constructed and maintained by large corporations to transform raw agricultural and forest commodities into finished consumer goods, generally exported for global markets. These companies are crucial to international efforts to protect tropical forest ecosystems. Consumer country governments in North America and Europe have largely failed to regulate to prevent “embedded deforestation” in imported goods; while some governments in tropical regions lack either the capacity, or political will, to protect their forests.

It is for this reason that Mighty Earth, while always seeking to hold governments to account and pushing for stronger environmental laws and regulations, also engages robustly with private sector companies that produce, trade, process and sell agricultural and forest commodities originating from the tropics. Getting companies to adopt sustainable sourcing and processing practices is essential for ensuring the long-term future of tropical woodland habitats.

A great example of this is natural rubber. Used predominantly in tires – but also in consumer goods such as shoes, garden hoses, condoms, outdoor clothing, and basketballs – natural rubber is derived from latex tapped from the hevea brasiliensis tree grown exclusively in tropical forest ecosystems, mainly in Asia.

Neglected as a driver of deforestation until recent years, companies within the natural rubber global value chain largely flew under the public radar. This started to change in the last 10 years, when campaign groups such as Global Witness began to highlight widespread deforestation, land grabbing and serious human rights abuses linked to the expansion of rubber plantations in Southeast Asia. This also elevated the work of local civil society organisations (CSOs) in the region that had long been resisting the often highly aggressive incursions of rubber companies onto community land and forests – work which Mighty Earth continues to support today.

Since that time, a number of companies operating within the natural rubber industry have woken up to the challenges of ensuring rubber is produced and processed in ways which don’t damage the environment, harm vulnerable local communities, or exploit small farmers, workers and indigenous people.  Many have sought to engage with CSOs to understand and grapple with the risks they face, and develop “Zero deforestation” and “No exploitation” corporate policies and practices.

In March 2019, a number of companies representing rubber producers, processors, tire makers, and auto manufacturers founded a joint platform along with a group of CSOs, including Mighty Earth, with the goal of making the rubber industry fully sustainable. The new body, the Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR) has since been working collaboratively to devise concrete measures to transform the industry. This includes everything from creating a future vision, or “desired state,” to looking at systems for increasing transparency, traceability and accountability throughout rubber supply chains, to developing company policy guidance for sustainable rubber procurement, to improved capacity building for both large and small scale growers.

As we approach the anniversary of the GPSNR in March 2020, we can reflect on the fact that a lot of good work has been done in the first year of its existence. This is both in terms of concrete outputs, as well as in the evolution of increasing trust and cooperation between the different stakeholders on the Platform. Nonetheless, we recognise that much more remains to be done. Some companies within the GPSNR still do not have their own internal sustainable rubber policies, which is highly problematic.  In addition, a key pillar of the GPSNR – an effective grievance mechanism to call out companies that violate the principles, codes and policies of GPSNR – is still undeveloped. Also troubling is that the Platform does not yet appear close to devising effective systems for monitoring the performance of its members with regards to sustainability. Furthermore, no companies from the world’s largest rubber market, China, currently participate in the GPSNR.

External challenges also remain. As with other tropical forest and agricultural commodities, some countries where rubber is produced suffer from endemic corruption and poor enforcement of forest protection laws and community land rights. In addition, low rubber prices create immense challenges for smallholder farmers, or even larger companies, to invest in new systems, technologies and practices for improving the sustainability of rubber cultivation.

Despite these challenges, we remain positively engaged in GPSNR, including its working groups and Executive Committee, and believe we can build on the momentum created in 2019. Mighty Earth’s vision for 2020 is to see all GPSNR member companies adopting sustainable natural rubber policies, the establishment of a credible grievance mechanism, the development of effective monitoring systems, participation of smallholder farmer representatives in the Platform, and the integration of Chinese companies.

We will also be supporting GPSNR’s efforts to deliver tools for increased supply chain traceability and transparency, such as the SPOTT transparency toolkit initiative, with all member companies fully disclosing key information on the origins and sustainability of their natural rubber within a year. We also hope 2020 will be the year when GPSNR members will step up boldly to call for regulation, as the bulk of the cocoa industry has done, as well as key parts of the coffee sector. The rubber industry can help build momentum towards binding, fair, effective regulation that creates a level playing field, where forward-looking companies are not penalized by having to compete with rogue actors who don’t respect the environment or human rights.

We believe all these things and more are achievable in 2020, and will continue to try to stretch the possibilities for transforming the natural rubber industry this year.

The future of rubber starts now!


Mighty Earth's Etelle Higonnet Named to France's National Order of Merit

French President Emmanuel Macron has named Mighty Earth Senior Campaign Director Etelle Higonnet (bio) a Chevalier of France’s Ordre national du Mérite (National Order of Merit), honoring her for her work to protect the environment. Mighty Earth Chairman Henry Waxman and CEO Glenn Hurowitz released the following statements celebrating the news.

Mighty Earth Chairman and former Congressman Henry Waxman:

"Etelle’s accomplishments – including transforming the cocoa industry and her pioneering legal work to drive major French and international companies to address serious human rights and environmental issues throughout their supply chains – are extraordinary. She is an inspiration to the team, a model for effective advocacy, and a truly wonderful person. I am so pleased that France has recognized her with this prestigious honor.

"At a time when too many governments are shirking their duty to protect the environment and address the climate crisis, Etelle is a force both of and for nature. I am honored to work alongside her and offer my sincere congratulations."

Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz:

"Etelle is a towering figure in the global movement to protect the world’s forests, solve the climate crisis, and advance fundamental human rights.

"Etelle has been able to drive the transformation of some of the biggest industries in the world – cocoa, rubber, soy, and more – because of the way she combines her irresistible reservoir of moral force with a charm that inspires organizations, governments, and even cynical corporate executives to want to change.

"It is fitting that she has been awarded the Order of Merit. Those who do this work best do it not for external recognition but to have an impact on the world, and that is triply true of Etelle. But that kind of selfless commitment deserves celebration, and we hope that Etelle will serve as an example that will inspire many more people to understand the extraordinary changes that a combination of commitment and intelligence can achieve."