An unseasonably warm, sunny morning; brown haze horizon.
While at the September "Natural" Products Expo, I had a quick conversation with a natural rubber yoga mat maker. The eco qualities of the 100% natural latex rubber yoga mat seemed perfect - PVC free (imagine making a yoga mat with PVC, now there's an oxymoron), 100% rubber, eco dyes, and biodegradable. "Was it Fair Trade?" The shocked (weird?) look I got followed by "No" changed the tone of the conversation. He knew it was from Vietnam but didn't know much more than that; after all, he bought his rubber in bulk which might have included many sources. Given the defensive posturing, we knew it was time to go.
So here was a leading rubber yoga mat maker, well poised in the green world, surrounded by the Fair Trade mantra, and he wasn't sure of his sourcing. I find that fascinating.
Not only are yoga mats a potential source of natural latex and rubber, but pillows, mattresses and toppers are an enormous industry, offering safe, green bedroom alternatives.
Rubber trees originally came from Brazil but were quickly seeded in the colonial Asia territories and Liberia where labor was guaranteed, well, cheap, at least. This is from where most of the world's rubber still comes. In fact, there are campaigns to stop Firestone's destructive practices in Liberia. Goodyear also ranks right up there in abuses. In Asia, forests are being cut down for rubber tree plantations, but some of this is a front in order to continue logging. Horrible labor conditions and wages seem to be the norm but have yet to get the world's attention.
Searching for Fair Trade natural rubber doesn't get you far. There are just a handful of eco sites, but darn few. Most are based in England.
There was one company at Expo East that hopefully will make folks stop and think about sourcing of "natural" products. Flip flops made by Feelgoodz uses 100% rubber but their mission is what makes them so special. (okay, so they are the most comfortable flops ever) They hope to become the first Fair Trade certified rubber product in America, in addition to their triple bottom line commitment.
So many other "natural" products such as food, fabrics, fibers and woods are Fair Trade or at least have SA 8000 certifications. How did rubber slip under the radar?
So, who harvests the rubber trees for your yoga mat? What about your flip flops? Or your latex pillow or mattress? If you have any of these products, I urge you to make a phone call. Ask the company if their rubber is Fair Trade. Ask if they have visited the plantations. Ask what country their rubber comes from. Ask if they know any thing about the sourcing of their rubber. The answers may shock you.