Woman walking through rubber plantation Shan state Myanmar
Woman walking through rubber plantation, Shan state, Myanmar. Credit: Global Witness/Chris Kelly

Rubber in the Mekong

Following a market boom in the mid-2000s, rubber companies expanded into new land in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar with disastrous consequences. Global Witness has been working with the rubber industry to raise awareness of the risks and encourage sustainable sourcing.

Rubber is everywhere – in shoes, condoms and conveyer belts. Not to mention the global tyre industry, which consumes half of the world’s natural rubber and was worth US$180 billion in 2018.

Major rubber producing nations are short on land, however, and companies have expanded into new territories such as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. In South East Asia, large-scale rubber plantations have been one of the main drivers of land grabs and deforestation - an industry reality that we exposed in our 2013 report Rubber Barons. 

The rubber industry needn’t become tainted by these risks. In fact around 85% of rubber globally is produced by smallholders, and evidence suggests that production on this scale brings lasting economic, social and environmental benefits. Rubber can be easily grown alongside other cash crops like banana, tea, cocoa and pineapple. Not only does this reduce competition for land, it also provides an alternative income for farmers, and the diversity of crops provides a source of food for families.  

Global Witness has been working with the rubber industry to raise awareness of risks and impacts, encourage smallholder production and develop guidelines for sustainable sourcing. 

In China, the Ministry of Commerce invited Global Witness to help develop guidelines for Chinese overseas investments in rubber, informed by existing international standards and practices in other sectors.

We have been working with global brand tyre companies and regional tyre associations which has led to the top five tyre companies – Michelin, Goodyear, Bridgestone, Continental and Pirelli – establishing their own sourcing policies on sustainable natural rubber.

Such industry efforts have led to the establishment of a Global Platform on Sustainable Natural Rubber – the first global multi-stakeholder initiative on tackling abuses within the rubber supply chain. Global Witness has pushed for strong standards, a robust compliance mechanism and transparency and accountability from the platform.
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