Rubber

Countries Where Rubber is Reportedly Produced with Forced Labor and/or Child Labor

  • Burma (FL, CL)

  • Cambodia (CL)

  • Côte d’Ivoire (FL)

  • Indonesia (CL)

  • Liberia (FL, CL)

  • Philippines (CL)

  • Vietnam (CL)

Where is rubber reportedly produced with trafficking and/or child labor?

According to the U.S. Department of State 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, rubber is produced with forced labor or forced child labor in Burma, Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia.[1] The 2016 List of Goods Produced by Forced Labor and Child Labor, published by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), notes that natural rubber is produced with forced labor in Burma. In addition, natural rubber is produced with child labor in Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Liberia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.[2] The U.S. Department of State 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report lists the Philippines as a Tier 1 country. Cambodia, Indonesia, Liberia, and Vietnam are listed as Tier 2 countries. Côte d’Ivoire is listed is a Tier 2 Watch List countries. Burma is a Tier 3 country.[3]

[1] U.S. Department of Labor. 2016 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. 2016.  https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/TVPRA_Report2016.pdf

[2] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2015. http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/245365.pdf

[3] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2016. https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/258876.pdf

What does trafficking and/or child labor in rubber production look like?

The labor rights abuses in rubber production that have historically received the most attention are those reported on the Firestone plantations in Liberia. The U.S. Department of State reports that workers from within the country are trafficked on to rubber plantations.[4] Rubber tappers responsible for extracting liquid rubber from trees receive low wages and must meet high quotas which require assistance from family members, including children.[5] In 2011, a collective bargaining agreement provided for lower quotas and higher wages.[6] A report from Fair Rubber Association found poor health and safety standards and a lack of monitoring.[7] Firestone does provides significant social services to plantation workers, including  schools and health care centers.[8] In 2017, due to a decrease in rubber prices, Firestone reduced its work force by an estimate of 7 percent.[9] According to the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL), these layoffs were in violation of the collective bargaining agreement.[10]

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported in 2015 that the indicators of forced labor were present in Burma among the Rohingya, the country’s Muslim minority population. RFA reported that the Rohingya were vulnerable to both sex and labor trafficking in the Rakhine state, writing “locals have used dubious tactics to trick men into forced labor on palm oil and rubber plantations.”

The Indonesian Rubber Research Institute (IRRI) investigated rubber tapping wages and found that they were far below the legal minimum wage.[11] In Malaysian rubber plantations the Fair Rubber Association found labor rights abuses including a lack of freedom of association and permanent contracts. Investigations also found discriminatory practices in the treatment of migrant workers on rubber plantations with reports of document retention, subminimum wages, lower wages than national workers, and lack of necessary safety equipment.[12]

Research conducted by Public Radio International found that indigenous populations have been displaced from their ancestral lands in Laos, Burma and Cambodia to make room for rubber plantations.[13] In 2013, Global Witness reported that land grabs for rubber plantations in Laos and Cambodia were displacing local populations.[14] Similarly, in 2014, Global Witness noted that the government of Burma was allocating land traditionally used by farmers for smallholder rubber production to the growth of large-scale commercial rubber plantations.[15] In 2015 it was reported that military and government actors colluded with investors to improperly seize land from ethnic minority groups.[16]

Child labor in rubber is often hazardous, as the tasks require significant physical effort. An ILO study on child labor in Indonesia found that it was not uncommon for children to help parents work on rubber plantations after school. However, if parents could not afford school fees, then children would drop out of school to work on the rubber plantation full time. Children working on the plantation are responsible for the same tasks as adults, including tapping the trees, cutting grass around the trees, spraying pesticides on weeds and fungus, and planting seedlings. Children working full time worked the same hours as adults. These children are exposed to hazards such as snake attacks, pesticides, long hours, and injury from sharp tools, with most work performed in isolated locations.[17] The U.S. Department of Labor noted that, in Liberia, children are tasked with tapping rubber trees, clearing brush and carrying buckets, again exposing them to serious work place hazards and injuries.[18] A 2016 DOL report found that in Vietnam there is evidence that children as young as five years old are working in rubber cultivation. A study published by the Vietnamese Government estimated that 10,224 children were involved in rubber production, 42.5 percent of who were under the age of fifteen, the legal age of employment in Vietnam. Approximately 22 percent of these children were 5-11 years old, 20 percent were 12 to 14 years old and 57.5 percent were 15 to 17 years old. This survey defines a child as involved in child labor if the child works “an excessive number of hours per week for his or her age” or if the child is working in conditions or circumstances prohibited for underage employees by law.[19]

[4] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2016. https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/258876.pdf

[5] International Labor Rights Forum. Labor Rights Abuses Continue on Firestone Liberia Rubber Plantation. July 28, 2009http://www.laborrights.org/stop-child-labor/stop-firestone/news/12065

[6] International Labor Rights Forum. Labor Rights Advocates Congratulate Bridgestone/Firestone Workers in Liberia on Award from U.S. Dept. of Labor. February 16, 2011.  http://old.laborrights.org/stop-child-forced-labor/stop-firestone/news/12461

[7] Fair Rubber Association. “Low Prices Drive Natural Rubber Producers into Poverty: An overview of sustainability issues and solutions in the rubber sector.” Aidenvironment. October 20, 2016. http://www.aidenvironment.org/news/low-prices-drive-natural-rubber-producers-into-poverty/

[8] Zoom, Dosso. “Burnt Rubber: Firestone Rubber Plantation Cuts Back in Liberia.” http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/index.php/business/2657-burnt-rubber-firestone-rubber-plantation-cuts-back-in-liberia

[9] Zoom, Dosso. “Burnt Rubber: Firestone Rubber Plantation Cuts Back in Liberia.” http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/index.php/business/2657-burnt-rubber-firestone-rubber-plantation-cuts-back-in-liberia

[10] Zoom Dosso. “Burnt Rubber: Firestone Rubber Plantation Cuts Back in Liberia By Zoom Dosso (AFP)” January, 2017http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/index.php/business/2657-burnt-rubber-firestone-rubber-plantation-cuts-back-in-liberia

[11] Roseanne Gerin. “East and Southeast Asian Nations Remain Static on US Human Trafficking Report.” Radio Free Asia. July 27, 2017. http://www.rfa.org/english/news/korea/east-and-southeast-asian-nations-remain-static-on-us-human-trafficking-report-07272015160431.html

[12] Fair Rubber Association. “Low Prices Drive Natural Rubber Producers into Poverty: An overview of sustainability issues and solutions in the rubber sector.” Aidenvironment. October 20, 2016. http://www.aidenvironment.org/news/low-prices-drive-natural-rubber-producers-into-poverty/

[13] Jason Margolis. “Michelin isn’t reinventing the wheel, it’s reinventing the rubber supply chain.” PRI. August 24, 2016. https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-08-24/michelin-isnt-reinventing-wheel-its-reinventing-rubber-supply-chain

[14] Global Witness. Rubber Barrons. May 2013. https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/land-deals/rubberbarons/

[15] Global Witness. What Future for the Rubber Industry in Myanmar? March 2014.

[16] Tang, Alisa. “Business, military, government seize land for rubber in Myanmar: rights group.” Reuters. March 26, 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-rights-land-idUSKBN0MM1N120150326

[17] International Labor Organization (ILO) Indonesia. Child Labour in Plantations. April 22, 2010. http://www.ilo.org/jakarta/areasofwork/WCMS_126206/lang–en/index.htm

[18] Department of Labor. “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor: Liberia” 2010. https://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/tda2010/liberia.pdf

[19] Department of Labor. “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor: Vietnam” 2016https://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods/

CASE STUDY

Research on working conditions in the Liberia Rubber Sector

Verité conducted research on two large, foreign-owned rubber plantations in Liberia (LAC and Cocopa) and found several potential indicators of human trafficking. The majority of workers on the rubber plantations are employed as tappers who manually extract rubber from the trees and transport it to field stations. Tappers are paid by production and have a quota of how many trees they must tap per day. Those who do not reach the quota are subject to financial penalties. Additionally, wages may vary from month to month as paycheck deductions are made for services such as compulsory, subsidized bags of rice, school fees and voluntary savings programs. Workers at both plantations are required to work eight hours per day, but twelve-hour work days are not uncommon. Researchers found that although the LAC plantation gave out loans to its employees, indebtedness was not a factor in keeping workers on the plantation. Some evidence of menace of penalty was found, such as forced dismissal, but these accounts were unsubstantiated. On both the plantations, child labor was observed. Because of the quota system, many families employ their children in order to reach the daily quota. Additionally, because of the poor quality of education and high school fees, many parents prefer to have their children working on the plantation over attending school. Researchers found that plantation workers, including children, face significant health risks. Working as a tapper requires hard physical labor and back pain is a common complaint. The rate of accident is high as workers have to handle machetes, hot rubber and acid (which is used in the production process). Although protective gear is issued to most workers, not all are educated on its functionality.[20]

[20] Verité. Rubber Production in Liberia: An Explanatory Assessment of Living and Working Conditions, with Special Attention to Forced Labor. http://www.verite.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Research-on-Working-Conditions-in-the-Liberia-Rubber-Sector__9.16.pdf

Rubber Production and Supply Chain

In Asia, apart from Indonesia and Malaysia, rubber is likely to be grown on large plantations, whereas in Africa it is most likely to be grown on small family farms.

The production of natural rubber revolves around the life cycle of the tree from which the rubber (or latex) originates. This means that the production process for rubber requires three major stages: planting and maintaining the trees, harvesting the rubber from them by tapping, and processing the rubber for trade. As a production process, this is extremely labor intensive. In each stage, several specific tasks are involved, and each relates to the life-cycle of the tree. The rubber tree is fragile, particularly in the period immediately after planting and up to when it reaches maturity at seven or eight years of age. The tree can be tapped carefully from the age of two or three, but its prime years of production, if well-maintained, are from seven to 25 years.[21]

The lifecycle of a rubber field is therefore defined by three distinct phases. First, as seedlings, the trees are in a nursery, while a field is being prepared for them. When the seedlings are ready, these young trees are transplanted to the prepared field. Second, for seven to eight years, apart from periodic gentle tapping, the main activity on the field is pruning and weeding. Third, after this seven to eight-year period, the trees are ready for full production. At this stage, they will be tapped all year round. However, the peak periods of the season last from the heavy rains of May to September and the lighter rains of October to January. Production is considerably lower in the dry period lasting from February to April.[22]

The clearing of land, breeding in the nursery, and the weeding and pruning of fields and young trees are integral elements to the production process. The most labor-intensive stage, however, is the tapping of trees. This involves each tree being “tapped” with a cup that is attached to it just below the cut made in the tree’s bark to collect the latex. In a normal working day, tappers will collect “cup-lumps” from the previous day – that is, the latex that has poured into the cup overnight – then clean the cup and return to collect the new latex later that same day. At the end of the day (or alternately after a whole field has been cleared), the tapper will carry both the fresh latex and cup-lumps to the nearest field station for weighing. At the field station, acid is added to the latex as the first step in producing rubber. At this stage, there are safety concerns for workers involved in the collection and production process, with injuries in the field including eye and skin damage from spilling latex; snakebites; back pain and muscle cramps from carrying heavy loads to the field stations; and exposure to the acid that is added to the latex at the field station.[23]

According to a USAID description of the rubber sector in Indonesia, small holders generally sell their rubber to nearby plantations or middlemen, while plantations sell on the open market or through traders.  Traders in the value chain finance producers and provide transport. Processors buy material from collectors, plantations or famer groups. Large plantations may also be processors. Brokers collect rubber from processors and provide it to global rubber manufacturers.[24] The origin of rubber can be obscured, particularly at the broker or manufacturing level.

Today’s rubber industry is largely dependent on the mixing of batches of rubber. Natural rubber, fillers, and other compounding ingredients are mixed using a two-roll mill or other types of mixers to create “rubber compounds,” which are then sent out for mass consumption. These rubber compounds are processed further through molding machines, vulcanization units, and various curing processes. The process of compounding and curing rubber for consumer use requires a constant supply of natural rubber.[25] However, this process of compounding and altering natural rubber greatly affect its traceability within supply chains.

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.[26] 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.[27]

The Fair Rubber Association reports that the fluctuating and falling prices of natural rubber in the global economy has greatly disadvantaged small or artisanal rubber producers and deemphasized worker rights and safe working conditions.[28]  While demand for rubber has slumped in recent years, newer analysis suggests that demand will potentially usurp supply, particularly if the low petroleum prices that have driven use of synthetic rubber rise.[29]

[21] Verité. Rubber Production in Liberia: An Explanatory Assessment of Living and Working Conditions, with Special Attention to Forced Laborhttp://www.verite.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Research-on-Working-Conditions-in-the-Liberia-Rubber-Sector__9.16.pdf

[22] Verité. Rubber Production in Liberia: An Explanatory Assessment of Living and Working Conditions, with Special Attention to Forced Labor. http://www.verite.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Research-on-Working-Conditions-in-the-Liberia-Rubber-Sector__9.16.pdf

[23] Verité. Rubber Production in Liberia: An Explanatory Assessment of Living and Working Conditions, with Special Attention to Forced Labor. http://www.verite.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Research-on-Working-Conditions-in-the-Liberia-Rubber-Sector__9.16.pdf

[24] U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). A Value Chain Assessment of the Rubber Industry in Indonesia. June 2007. http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNADL492.pdf

[25] John S. Dick and  P. Rader. “Raw Materials Supply Chain for Rubber Products Overview of the Global Use of Raw Materials, Polymers, Compounding Ingredients, and Chemical Intermediates.” Hanser Publications. 2013. http://www.hanserpublications.com/SampleChapters/9781569905371_9781569905371%20Raw%20Materials%20Supply%20Chain%20by%20Dick%20and%20Rader%20SAMPLE%20PAGES.pdf

[26] UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Commodity Atlas: Natural Rubber. http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/ditccom20041ch17_en.pdf

[27] Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO).  Detailed World Agricultural Trade Flows. http://faostat.fao.org/DesktopModules/Faostat/WATFDetailed2/watf.aspx?PageID=536

[28] Fair Rubber Association. “Low Prices Drive Natural Rubber Producers into Poverty: An overview of sustainability issues and solutions in the rubber sector.” Aidenvironment. October 20, 2016. http://www.aidenvironment.org/news/low-prices-drive-natural-rubber-producers-into-poverty/

[29] Economic Times. “Natural Rubber supply will be short of demand from 2020, says ANRPC secretary general.” October 17, 2016. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/agriculture/natural-rubber-supply-will-be-short-of-demand-from-2020-says-anrpc-secretary-general/articleshow/54899753.cms

How do Trafficking and/or Child Labor in Rubber Production Affect Me?

Because rubber is elastic, waterproof, and a natural insulator, it has a wide variety of consumer and industrial uses. The automotive sector uses rubber which includes belts, hoses and seals. Natural rubber is also used for gloves, mats, condoms, hot water bottles, and protective clothing.[30]

Demand for synthetic rubber increased drastically during World War II. Today the majority of all rubber used is produced synthetically. While manufactured goods may use either natural or synthetic rubber, approximately 60 percent of all natural rubber use is in tires and other automobile parts.[31]

[30] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. UN Comtrade Database. 2012. http://comtrade.un.org/data/

[31] UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Commodity Atlas: Natural Rubber. http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/ditccom20041ch17_en.pdf

EXAMPLES

What Governments, Corporations, and Others are Doing

The Sustainable National Rubber initiative (SNR-i) of the International Research Study Group and the multi-stakeholder partnership Smallholder Acceleration through Responsible Production and Sourcing (SHARP) focus on both the environmental and social impacts of rubber production, including livelihoods, food security, wages, labor conditions, land grabs, and other environmental degradation.[32]

In 2017, General Motors announced plans to move towards a more ethical natural rubber supply chain, with a focus on decreasing deforestation and increasing farmer livelihoods.[33]

In 2016, Michelin, the world’s larger purchaser of natural rubber, announced a “Zero Deforestation Policy.” This policy announcement comes in the wake of Michelin’s collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund which began in 2015.[34]

Clothing company Patagonia has recently launched a line of sustainably produced rubber wetsuits. These wetsuits are produced in environmentally-friendly conditions that result in lower CO2 emissions due to the use of natural rubber rather than chemical-laden neoprene, which had traditionally been used in wetsuits. These products are certified by Rainforest Alliance and the Forest Stewardship Council.

Patagonia reported that “meet or exceed all applicable laws covering the health and safety of employees and their families…In contrast to agricultural operations that rely on migrant labor, the workers at our source plantation are given extended contracts, bringing steady income and generating a more skilled and stable workforce.” Patagonia is sharing this production technology with other members of the retail and wetsuit-producing community.[35]

The Fair Rubber Association was founded in 2012 to advance the living and working conditions of rubber producers and workers globally. This multi-stakeholder project has several members who pay a Fair Trade premium for every kilogram of rubber they purchase to their suppliers. Those who meet these qualifications can use the Fair Rubber logo in their operations. The Association notes that “supplier partners themselves decided what they want to do with the Fair Trade premium” as long as they comply with the association’s criteria list. Projects that have resulted from this Fair Trade premium include the first private supplementary pension fund for rubber plantation workers in India, supplying 64 families with clean drinking water and 21 families with electricity in Sri Lanka, and the expansion of rubber processing centers within a small farmer association in Sri Lanka, resulting in more employment opportunities for local farmers.[36]

In 2010, USAID developed the “Rubber Industry Master Plan 2010 – 2040: A National Agenda for Rubber Sector Development” in collaboration with the Liberian Ministry of Agriculture. The master plan sets up the Rubber Development Fund Incorporated (RDFI), a joint public-private organization that will implement all master plan strategies. In addition to plans to revitalize development of the Liberian rubber sector, the plan calls for improved standard of living for workers and educational access for children.[37]

[32] Fair Rubber Association. “Low Prices Drive Natural Rubber Producers into Poverty: An overview of sustainability issues and solutions in the rubber sector.” Aidenvironment. October 20, 2016. http://www.aidenvironment.org/news/low-prices-drive-natural-rubber-producers-into-poverty/

[33] General Motors. GM Works to Set Sustainable Natural Rubber Tires into Motion. May 15, 2015. http://media.gm.com/media/us/en/gm/home.detail.html/content/Pages/news/us/en/2017/may/0515-tires.html

[34] Carter Roberts. “Don’t Let Your Tires Destroy the World’s Forests” Time Magazine. July 1, 2016. http://time.com/4391096/rubber-deforestation/

[35] Patagonia. “Yulex® Natural Rubber Wetsuits”  http://www.patagonia.com/yulex-natural-rubber-wetsuits.html?utm_source=em&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=081216_yulex&ett=1641496896&dtm_em=0B38E0ABE2F3B63AE93C5E0C30650A43 

[36] Fair Rubber Association. “Low Prices Drive Natural Rubber Producers into Poverty: An overview of sustainability issues and solutions in the rubber sector.” Aidenvironment. October 20, 2016. http://www.aidenvironment.org/news/low-prices-drive-natural-rubber-producers-into-poverty/

[37] U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Rubber Industry Master Plan 2010 – 2040: A National Agenda for Rubber Sector Development http://www.rpalib.org/page_info.php?&7d5f44532cbfc489b8db9e12e44eb820=MTU0

U.S. Department of Labor. 2013 Worst Forms of Child Labor Liberia. http://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/liberia.htm Verité. Rubber Production in Liberia: An Explanatory Assessment of Living and Working Conditions, with Special Attention to Forced Labor. http://www.verite.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Research-on-Working-Conditions-in-the-Liberia-Rubber-Sector__9.16.pdf

 

LEARN MORE

Watch a video about Firestone in Liberia.

Read about the international rubber trade.

Read Verité’s full report on working conditions in Liberia’s rubber industry.

Watch Patagonia’s video on their neoprene-free, sustainable rubber wetsuits