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New EU deforestation law will impact fashion industry's use of rubber

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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Image: Rubber boots

Rubber as a textile has been trending for well over a year, from Bottega Veneta’s colourful puddle boots to Zara’s rubberised rain coats. Often used as a technical coated textile, rubber is truly embedded in the fashion industry, but its origins will soon make it privy to whether or not it is allowed to be sold in the EU.

A new law agreed by the European Union will ban the import of products linked to deforestation. In addition to household goods, like coffee and cocoa, it would also apply to timber and rubber.

The EU plans to implement strict checks to ensure forests weren't damaged to create goods, imposing fines on those who cannot prove their products are not linked to deforestation.

In a statement the Europe Commission said the new law “will help stop a significant share of global deforestation and forest degradation, in turn reducing greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss. This major agreement comes just before the start of the milestone Conference on Biodiversity (COP15) which is set to define protection goals for nature for decades to come.”

Due diligence

The new regulation sets strong mandatory due diligence rules for companies that want to place relevant products on the EU market or export them. Operators and traders will have to prove that the products are both deforestation-free (produced on land that was not subject to deforestation after 31 December 2020) and legal (compliant with all relevant applicable laws in force in the country of production).

Companies will also be required to collect precise geographical information on the farmland where the commodities that they source have been grown, so that these commodities can be checked for compliance. Member States need to make sure that not complying with the rules leads to effective and dissuasive penalties.

Rubber origins

Rubber comes in either natural form (latex), or synthetic (made from a petroleum base). While less than a quarter of the world’s natural rubber production is used for footwear and water-proof clothing, natural rubber plantations emerged as a significant source of deforestation, land grabs and human rights abuses in the first decade of the 21st century, says data from Fern.org.

The EU imports 25 percent of global rubber imports.

The EU is a significant importer of rubber, accounting for approximately one fourth of global production. The impact, in addition to deforestation, is that growing rubber increases biodiversity loss and soil erosion, and produces hazardous waste, chemical smells and pollution linked to the processing of natural rubber. For the footwear industry, where statistics say about 30 percent of all shoe soles in the world's shoe production are made of rubber, it will mean strict compliance and due diligence of global supply chains.

Why deforestation should be stopped

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

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

European Commisson
Sustainable Fashion