In unprecedented move, Michelin adopts zero deforestation for rubber sourcing

Zero deforestation commitments have gained traction with Michelin's deal. Will Bridgestone and Goodyear step on the brakes on deforestation for their natural rubber supply as well?

Michelin Group, one of the world’s three largest tire companies, has just adopted a zero deforestation policy for its rubber sourcing. The move is significant because rubber is a major driver of tropical forest destruction through the conversion of natural forests for plantations. Forests in West Africa and Southeast Asia have been particularly hard hit by the commodity’s production.

The new policy, which is published on Michelin’s web site, calls for many of the same provisions adopted by “zero deforestation” companies, including respecting local communities’ rights to reject plantations and barring sourcing of rubber from newly cleared forests. According the policy, primary forests as well as “high carbon stock” (HCS) and “high conservation value” (HCV) are off-limited for conversion.

“[Michelin] Group undertakes not to contribute voluntarily, directly or indirectly, to actions which might lead to the illegitimate appropriation of land to the detriment of local communities or populations,” the policy states. “The Group is committed to ‘free, prior and informed consent’ (FPIC) principle of local communities likely to be affected by its operations, especially when setting up or transforming corporate plantations and/or industrial sites.”

“Keen to protect natural forests, and particularly primary forests and areas of high environmental value likely to be jeopardized by the development of rubber cultivation, the Group advocates a responsible land management policy,” the policy continues.

The announcement by the Michelin group to commit to a zero deforestation natural rubber procurement policy sends a strong signal to the entire rubber sector: it will soon be more difficult to sell natural rubber that contributes to deforestation.

Cécile Leuba, forest campaigner, Greenpeace France

The move comes after environmentalists ratcheted up campaigns to reform the rubber sector, which has often been associated with deforestation and conflict.

Greenpeace France immediately welcomed the commitment.

“The announcement by the Michelin group to commit to a zero deforestation natural rubber procurement policy sends a strong signal to the entire rubber sector: it will soon be more difficult to sell natural rubber that contributes to deforestation,” said Cécile Leuba, Forest campaigner for Greenpeace France.

She noted that Michelin chose the more rigorous carbon accounting standard — the HCS Approach — to define its zero deforestation commitment. “After the Zero Deforestation commitment of more than 75 per cent of the palm oil sector, as well as major pulp and paper producers in tropical areas, it is now the rubber industry stakeholders who are adopting this methodology.”

Leuba added that Michelin will now have to cut ties with companies that continue to destroy forests, including Socfin, which Greenpeace alleges has cleared primary forests in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, Cameroon and Liberia.

“This zero deforestation commitment is just the first step: Michelin must now ensure its implementation and quickly stop sourcing from rubber growers who refuse to commit to producing zero deforestation rubber. This starts with Socfin which, is an important supplier for Michelin’s natural rubber,” Leuba said.

While scientists have been pointing for years to the problems caused by natural forest conversion to rubber plantations, activist groups had been slow to target rubber relative to other commodities like soy, palm oil oil, timber, and wood-fiber.

The Michelin deal however may increase pressure on Bridgestone and Goodyear to adopt similar policies, especially given the low price of rubber. Zero deforestation commitments in other sectors have tended to gain more traction when commodity prices are historically low, giving buyers more power in setting terms of sourcing agreements.

Greenpeace’s Leuba certainly has Socfin — and the companies that buy from it — in her sights in that regard.

“The decision of the Michelin group increases the risk for Socfin of being marginalised and the risk to find themselves in non-compliance with procurement policies of their major customers.”

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