Low prices drive natural rubber producers into poverty and serious violations of working rights are common. This is the harsh reality revealed in a new study conducted by Aidenvironment. The comprehensive review of literature reveals numerous cases of inadequate safety standards, inappropriate use of toxic chemicals, discrimination and structurally long working hours and child labour. It points to the need for more responsible sourcing practices by the rubber industry with particular attention to fair trading conditions.

The world market prices for natural rubber fluctuate strongly. For years, they have fallen drastically. In recent years, they have fallen drastically. At current prices, many small-scale rubber producers and plantations cannot even cover their costs of production. This pushes smallholders into poverty and makes it difficult for producers to provide good working conditions for workers. Some plantations cut down rubber trees and shift to more profitable crops such as palm oil. This is bad news for the environment: As rubber trees sequester more carbon than most other tree crops, this shift reduces climate change mitigation. To combat negative sustainability impacts and capture potential opportunities, the report stresses how important it is to improve trading conditions, including the payment of a fair price for natural rubber.

As a comprehensive solution to the main sustainability issues in the rubber industry, the report points at the Fair Rubber Association. It combines high ecological standards with fair working conditions. For one, plantations working with Fair Rubber have to be FSC certified. Secondly, small-scale farmers and plantations in South India and Sri Lanka receive a Fair Trade premium. The premium is used for projects to improve living and working conditions. Successful projects paid by Fair Trade premiums include the construction of a training center, support for higher educationdrinking water supply systems, and the first supplementary pension scheme for rubber tappers in the industry. Whatever the project: The primary rubber producers decided themselves – and continue to do so how the premium is to be spent.

Natural rubber is used in many products, such as tires (the automotive industry represents 75% of global demand), gloves, tubes, balloons and condoms. The international demand for natural rubber has driven a steady expansion of industrial and smallholder plantations in the past decade. Asia represents today more than 90% of the total area under rubber cultivation and 80% of world production. The largest consumers of rubber are China, EU, USA, India and Japan. You can download the complete study by Aidenvironment below.