Rubber is an important resource, especially for the production of tires and cars. Only little is known about the ecological and social consequences of rubber cultivation, even though the industrial rubber plantations and palm oil plantations contribute largely to the deforestation of rain forests. Moreover, working conditions on the industrial plantations are often poor, and human rights violations are a common issue. At the same time, rubber cultivation structures are still very much shaped by smallholders, such that fair prices can achieve social improvements. SÜDWIND aims at reporting on these issues as well as pointing out to the rubber industry how to organize their supply chains in a more sustainable way.
Rubber can be found in many everyday items, including mattresses, shoes and baby pacifiers, but the majority is used in the automotive industry. Seventy per cent of the world’s rubber is used to make vehicle tyres. About half of this is natural rubber, which comes from the Hevea brasiliensis rubber tree, around 90% of which is grown in Southeast Asia. The unchecked rise in the production of natural rubber is having serious environmental and social impacts, which consumers are often not aware of. Monoculture cultivation, for instance, poses the environmental risks of deforestation, biodiversity loss and an increased use of chemicals. Social risks include serious human rights violations such as illegal expulsions. Across the industry, however, it is first and foremost the price fluctuations and extremely low world market prices for rubber that are the greatest problems for producers. The rubber industry has now recognised these problems and has taken initial steps to address them. This study examines the current status and indicates which steps still need to be taken.