February 3, 2023

Rubber as a textile has been trending for over a year now, from the colorful pee boots from Bottega Veneta to the rubber raincoats from Zara. Rubber is often used as a technical coated textile and is really well established in the fashion industry, but its origins will soon dictate whether or not it can be sold in the EU.

A new law approved by the European Union bans the importation of products related to deforestation. In addition to household goods, such as coffee and cocoa, it would also apply to wood and rubber.

The EU plans to implement strict controls to ensure forests are not damaged to make goods, and imposes fines on those who cannot prove their products are not linked to deforestation.

In a statement, the European Commission said the new law “will help halt a significant portion of global deforestation and forest degradation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss. This important agreement comes just before the start of the landmark conference on Biodiversity (COP15), which will define conservation goals for nature for decades to come.”

By diligence

The new regulation sets strict mandatory due diligence rules for companies seeking to place or export relevant products on the EU market. Operators and traders will need to prove that the products are deforestation-free (produced on land that has not been deforested after December 31, 2020) and are legal (in compliance with all relevant applicable laws in place in the country of manufacture).

Businesses will also be required to collect accurate geographic information about the farmland where the products they purchase are grown so that these products can be monitored for compliance. Member States must ensure that non-compliance leads to effective and dissuasive penalties.

Rubber origin

Rubber comes in natural form (latex) or synthetic (made from a petroleum base). Although less than a quarter of the world’s natural rubber production is used for footwear and waterproof clothing, natural rubber plantations emerged as a major source of deforestation, land grabbing and human rights violations in the first decade of the 21st century, according to data from Fern.org.

The EU imports 25 percent of global rubber imports.

The EU is a major importer of rubber, accounting for about a quarter of world production. The impact, in addition to deforestation, is that growing rubber increases biodiversity loss and soil erosion, and produces hazardous waste, chemical odors and pollution associated with natural rubber processing. For the footwear industry, where statistics say that about 30 percent of all shoe soles in the world’s footwear production are made of rubber, this means strict compliance and due diligence of global supply chains.

Why deforestation must be stopped

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 420 million hectares of forest – an area larger than the European Union – were lost to deforestation between 1990 and 2020, according to the BBC.

Scientists and environmentalists have long linked forest degradation to climate change and biodiversity loss. The fashion industry will now be required by law to reduce its impact, even if it is just one textile.

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