The issue of deforestation is central to the proposed European Union (EU) legislation to protect the world’s forests and ecosystems. The EU, which according to a Greenpeace report, is “a major consumer and financier of products from global forest and ecosystem destruction”, is crafting a law to tackle deforestation and forest degradation. The legislation will cover forest-and-ecosystem-risk commodities (FERCs), including rubber.
For the rubber industry to veto the inclusion of rubber is not surprising. According to Mighty Earth, a global campaign organisation that works to protect the environment, conflict has ensued between NGOs and the EU tyre and rubber industry following the latter’s “lobbying to the European Commission (EC) to exclude rubber from the new EU due diligence regulations designed to stamp out deforestation, ecosystem loss and human rights abuses in key global commodity supply chains.”
It reported that civil organisations from Europe, Africa and the US bat for rubber to remain in the Commission’s FERC list.
According to Mighty Earth, a key European Parliament resolution adopted in October 2020 had identified rubber as a main driver of deforestation. More recently, on 25 February 2021, the Commission included rubber in a presentation detailing the preliminary list of FERCs covered under the draft EU Regulation.
Meanwhile, the European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers’ Association (ETRMA), with members that include global rubber and tyre makers such as Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear, Michelin and Pirelli , had issued public statements in late 2020 urging EC 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 argued into considering rubber as a “low-risk commodity” in relation to deforestation; 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.” The ETRMA concluded that regulatory action to combat rubber-related deforestation instead should be done locally, in producing countries, or at the global level.
The CSOs countered ETRMA’s position, pointing out a 2018 report for the EC, which 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, Laos, Vietnam, Cameroon, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
In response to public indications from senior officials that, on ETRMA’s advice, the EC is inclined to tick off rubber from the FERC list covered by its new regulation, a global coalition of CSOs have written an urgent open letter to the European Commissioner for Environment Virginijus Sinkevi?ius, “urging him to keep rubber in the EU’s deforestation law”, Mighty Earth said.
“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.”
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 tyres – 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, Mighty Earth said.