Producers and users of natural rubber products ignore the problems in the production chain

The Finnish-based tyre manufacturer Nokian Renkaat uses anything from 40,000 to 50,000 tons of natural rubber annually. The processors and traders that provide natural rubber to the company have committed themselves to respect the code of conduct of Nokian Renkaat. However, the code’s reach is limited as it only concerns the personnel of the processors and traders themselves but not those of the rubber plantations or the intermediaries.
08.11.2012 11:50

Nokian Renkaat does not have any plantations of its own. It buys the natural rubber it needs from Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. The company does not make public any more specific information about the origins of the natural rubber it uses, arguing that its subcontractor network is a matter of business secrecy. Serious social and health problems endured by rubber tappers and rubber workers are totally ignored by Nokian Renkaat.

This data is from a study published in October by the Nordic watchdogs Finnwatch and Danwatch. Five Finnish unions (JHL, Pro, SEL, Team and Tehy) and the Finnish development NGO Solidaarisuus support Finnwatch’s programme in organizing various international solidarity activities, the present study included.

Ethical demands for medical gloves

The report also deals with medical gloves made of natural rubber and used widely in the health care sector in Finland. Replies to a questionnaire from nine health care districts reveal that these organizations have not considered ethical questions when sourcing rubber gloves. However, the largest district covering the capital Helsinki and the surrounding province of Uusimaa, plans to include ethical demands when it puts out its next tender for medical gloves. Seven health care districts failed to reply to the questionnaire.

Five suppliers of medical gloves, made of natural rubber, were asked what kind of ethical demands they put on companies they buy their medical gloves from. Three of these five companies demand that their subcontractors respect and comply with the ILO’s labour standards. One company is in the process of publishing its code of conduct this autumn and the fifth company has not placed any ethical demands on its goods providers.

Most of their medical gloves come from Malaysia and other Asian countries where the risk of serious social and health problems in the production chain is great. The study does not cover questions on how these companies supervise the behaviour of their subcontractors.

The report’s literary review and field investigations make it clear that serious social and health problems are common in the plantations where natural rubber is tapped. Also use of child labour persists.

In the last paragraph the report offers thoughts on how the natural rubber production chain could be developed to meet internationally recognized ethical standards.

Read more:

Lapsityövoimaa ja vaarallisia kemikaaleja, (pdf) Finnwatch 4-2102 (English language Executive summary on page 5)

Juhani Artto