Gland, Switzerland — The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is commending Group Michelin for adopting a “zero deforestation sustainability” policy regarding natural rubber and is urging other tire makers and users of NR to consider similar positions.
Michelin’s policy, disclosed recently, focuses on eliminating deforestation and addresses human and labor rights, supply chain transparency, community farm development and tire efficiency.
The company, one of the world’s largest buyers of natural rubber, has begun tracing its whole supply chain and advising its NR suppliers to get in compliance with its new policy, according to the WWF. An important first step to making NR production sustainable is to develop responsibly managed plantations on degraded land with full consent by tenure-holding local communities, Michelin said, instead of grabbing land and clearing high quality natural forests.
Michelin policy states: “Our vision is to consider sustainable natural rubber as a natural and responsible way to protect forests with high conservation value and high carbon stock, as well as foster other environmental services. This involves stakeholders in a participatory process of land use, while ensuring satisfactory production yield and improved livelihoods for local communities.”
Michelin’s policy, developed in partnership with WWF-France, will help address one of the leading causes of deforestation in Southeast Asia, the source of most of the world’s natural rubber, said Jean Bakouma, head of the Forest Program at WWF-France.
“Rubber has been a major driver of deforestation in the Mekong (River) region over the last few years, especially after global prices peaked around 2011,” Bakouma said.
“(The) WWF urges the world’s biggest users of natural rubber, tire manufacturers, car makers and vehicle fleet operators to procure deforestation-free and ethically produced natural rubber and tires.”
According to WWF President and CEO Carter Roberts, 53 of the world’s largest companies in 2014 signed the New York Declaration on Forests and committed to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. However, none of signatories at that time came from the tire and rubber industry.
Michelin’s decision, however, is “setting the bar for the rest of the industry to follow,” Roberts wrote recently in an essay on time.com.
According to Michelin, there are five many groups of stakeholders involved in the NR value chain:
Producers — The farmers who harvest latex from rubber trees. It is estimated that 85 percent of the cultivated rubber tree areas in the world are made up of very small farms (average of seven to eight acres) directly managed by owner-operators, who generally receive 60 to 90 percent of the commercial value of the NR they produce, depending on the country and region.
Dealers — Intermediaries who collect and purchase NR from small farms to sell to processing plants.
Processing plants — “Remilling” that process the raw material (latex or cup lumps) into bales of NR intended for the manufacturing industry.
Traders — Brokers buy remilling plant production and sell it mainly to manufacturers.
Manufacturers — As the last step in the value chain, manufacturers process the NR and incorporate it into the production of finished or semi-finished products.
In some cases, a stakeholder can be both a producer and/or a dealer, remiller, and even a manufacturer.
Greenpeace France also commented on Michelin’s move, saying: “The announcement…sends a strong signal to the entire rubber sector: it will soon be more difficult to sell natural rubber that contributes to deforestation.”
"This zero deforestation commitment is just the first step,” said Cécile Leuba, forest campaigner for Greenpeace France. “Michelin must now ensure its implementation and quickly stop sourcing from rubber growers who refuse to commit to producing zero deforestation rubber.”