Where is rubber produced with forced labor?
According to the United States Department of Labor (2010) natural rubber is produced with forced labor in Myanmar (Burma) and with child labor in Cambodia, Indonesia, Liberia, Myanmar, and the Philippines. Previously, forced labor has been identified in Liberia and anecdotal reports have reported forced labor in Malaysia (Kinetz et al 2008).
What does forced labor in rubber production look like?
Source: UNCTAD 2004. Yellow bars signify production and green cones signify consumption. Arrows signify trade flows. Source: UNCTAD 2004.
The most well-known instances of forced labor in rubber production are those on the Firestones plantations of Liberia. Rubber tappers responsible for extracting liquid rubber from trees received low wages and must meet high quotas which require assistance from family members, including children (International Labor Rights Forum). According to anecdotal reports, conditions have bettered somewhat in recent years, in part due to the public campaigns highlighting Firestone and in part due to the end of Liberia’s civil war. There have been few studies on conditions outside of Firestone properties.
In Myanmar, the Karen Human Rights Group (2006) has reported forced labor in rubber similar to forms practiced in other agricultural commodities in which officials, mainly government representatives, claim a certain proportion of the week's labor for working on plantations.
How does forced labor in rubber affect me?
Rubber is used primarily in tire production but also for a wide variety of industrial uses.
Rubber Production and Supply Chain
In Asia, with the exception of Indonesia and Malaysia, rubber is likely to be grown on large plantations whereas in Africa is it most likely to be grown on small family farms. Forced labor takes place at the harvesting stage. While production processes differ, a common process is vulcanization, which adds sulfur to natural rubber in order to solidify it. After vulcanization, rubber is heated and pored into molds.
Approximately 90 percent of rubber production takes place in Asia, with Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, China and Vietnam accounting for 88 percent of global production (UNCTAD 2004). However, Liberia accounts for approximately 64 percent of quantity and 72 percent of value of American rubber imports with Vietnam and Thailand also providing significant sources (FAO).
Natural Versus Synthetic Rubber:
Demand for synthetic rubber increased drastically during World War II. Today the majority of all rubber used is produced synthetically and not known to involve the use of forced or child labor in its production. While goods may use either natural or synthetic rubber, approximately 60 percent of all natural rubber use is in tires and other automobile parts (UNCTAD 2004).
Where can I learn more?
Food and Agriculture Organization. FAOSTAT. Detailed World Agricultural Trade Flows. n.d. http://faostat.fao.org/DesktopModules/Faostat/WATFDetailed2/watf.aspx?PageID=536
Karen Human Rights Group. Surviving in Shadow: Widespread Militarization and the Systematic Use of Forced Labour in the Campaign for Control of Thaton District. January 17, 2006.
International Labor Rights Forum. Labor Rights Abuses Continue on Firestone Liberia Rubber Plantation. July 28, 2009.
International Labor Rights Forum. Stop Firestone. n.d. http://www.laborrights.org/stop-child-labor/stop-firestone
Kinetz, Erika, Georgre Wehrfritz, Jonathan Kent. “Bottom of the Barrel.” Newsweek. March 15, 2008.
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Commodity Atlas: Natural Rubber. n.d. http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/ditccom20041ch17_en.pdf
United States Department of Labor. 2010 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. December 2010. http://www.dol.gov/ilab/programs/ocft/pdf/2010TVPRA.pdf
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