Rubberway Successfully Reaching Thousands of Farmers Upstream in the Natural Rubber Supply Chain

February 26, 2021 Veronique Seel

Rubberway, a mobile app developed by leading tire manufacturer Michelin in 2017, later joined also by Continental AG, which we discussed a couple of years ago here, has since been named the winner of the Journey to Automation (J2A) Awards in the Supply Chain category by the European Rubber Journal. The app, which provides natural rubber buyers with an upstream supply chain risk mapping service, was recognized for the advancement in the field of automation and digital transformation in the tire industry.


Natural Rubber Supply Chain - A Very Fragmented Scene

The vast majority of the world’s natural rubber comes from small rubber tree plantations sized between two to three hectares, operated by some six million farmers. More than 90% of these are based in Asia, Africa and South America, with Thailand accounting for 36%, Indonesia 26%, Vietnam 9%, Malaysia, India and South China 5% and West Africa 6%. As a result, the industry is very prone to human rights violation, including modern slavery and child labor, with the farms being particuarly exposed to risk. 


A Successful Two-Step Risk Mitigation Process

To mitigate these and other supply chain risks, the first step that Michelin and Continental AG take is to use EcoVadis Ratings to obtain a rating of their Tier-1 suppliers and sustainability self-assessment for the upstream chain. The second step, those rated companies then invite their upstream suppliers to use the Rubberway app to report on key sustainability topics. The groups have used this two-step approach since 2013, before the app was developed, finding it an effective way to guide the sector toward responsible and secure farming. 


"The evaluation of our direct suppliers of natural rubber, via EcoVadis, showed us that their potential areas for improvement were mainly related to their upstream supply chain. It was therefore natural for Michelin to offer them a pragmatic solution to help them progress in this direction. Rubberway is an innovative CSR mapping tool, mainly aimed at village planters, which enables our suppliers to better understand the areas for improvement and to deploy the necessary corrective measures," says Edouard de Rostolan, CSR Manager, SMPT Michelin.

For Continental AG's Micheal Radke, Head of Sustainability Supply Chain Management, using both EcoVadis Ratings and Rubberway has also proved a great approach to tackling sustainability risks in the supply chain. "Responsible sourcing is one of the key focus areas in Continental's sustainability strategy. With the help of EcoVadis we have successfully implemented a supplier assessment program for Tier-1 suppliers in all of our raw material categories. And for natural rubber, we are very pleased to have Rubberway. It's a very powerful, innovative and pragmatic tool that allows us to assess risks along all tiers of the upstream supply chain including smallholders. By partnering with Michelin -- and hopefully also other tire manufacturers in the future -- we hope to develop Rubberway into an industry standard along with the Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber."

The first step in the value chain monitoring process has more than 85% of the purchasing volume covered. And it’s the second step where the Rubberway app with its self-assessment questionnaire proves especially valuable as a single processing plant may be receiving its rubber coming from as many as 20,000 farmers. 



Sustainable Progress Over the Years

Over the years, the company has noted clear improvement in sustainability performance -- as evidenced by EcoVadis Ratings. “EcoVadis assessment scores of our natural rubber suppliers have increased significantly in recent years. This demonstrates both their progress in terms of our suppliers’ sustainability performance but also an increased interest in EcoVadis assessment,” said Edouard de Rostolan, CSR Manager, SMPT Michelin.

Since 2017, Michelin has used the Rubberway application extensively, relying on its direct suppliers and their processing plants to encourage intermediaries, large plantations and small farmers to self-assess their practices and voice their needs.

"As of September 2020, more than 36,000 players in the sector in seven countries have participated in the survey, driven by more than 55 processing plants. In a little over a year, thanks to the involvement of many suppliers in the project, the number of questionnaires increased three-fold,” said Côme de la Porte, Head of Operations, Rubberway. 

And How Does the Process Work?

There is no limit to the number of participants. The aim is to circulate the questionnaire as widely as possible, with each respondent having their own internet link to complete the questionnaire.

  1. Each plant manager receives a unique web link and completes the "PLANT" questionnaire. 
  2. The factory then submits the appropriate questionnaires to its own direct suppliers, properties, intermediaries or smallholders.
  3. These suppliers then pass on the questionnaire to their own suppliers if they wish, and so on... down to the village planters.



Rubberway is now being promoted across the industry with the aim to see more tire manufacturers joining the app, just as Continental AG has.  New users are expected in the coming months.

This article was originally published in French and is also available in German


Did you know?

In 2018, Michelin, with an international group of tire makers, car manufacturers, rubber processors and NGOs including WWF, BirdLife International, Forest Stewardship Council and Rainforest International, came together to launch “The Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber” (GPSNR). The GPSNR has a vision to create a ‘fair, equitable and environmentally sound natural rubber value chain’ and aims to improve the environmental and socio-economic performance of the natural rubber industry. The development of the GPSNR was initiated by the CEOs of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s (WBCSD) Tire Industry Project (TIP), of which Michelin is one of the founding members.

You may also want to learn about Our Way to Serve, a sustainability initiative by Bridgestone, one of the TIP members rated by EcoVadis and awarded over the years with Silver and Gold ratings. 








About the Author

Veronique Seel

Véronique Seel has been creating French content (data/studies/analysis and interviews) for EcoVadis since 2017. A graduate of the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (Paris) in Engineering and B2B Marketing, Véronique progressively specialized in CSR and sustainability during her time as consultant for Vigeo Eiris, then helped BNP Paribas Cardif to create a Sustainable Development department, followed by three years contributing to cleantech and mobility projects in the European Atlantic Area. Véronique Seel is a partner of the Coapi cooperative based in La Rochelle, France.

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