Raw materials supply chains are complex and often opaque. They may span multiple companies and can be difficult to trace. Companies’ efforts to ensure decent working conditions are focused mainly on their immediate suppliers. Typically, apparel and footwear companies focus on the finished goods produced in Tier 1 factories.
Rubber is an essential raw material for the footwear and sporting goods sectors. Sporting goods and footwear companies use natural rubber, either alone or in combination with other materials, in the production of their products. While researchers have examined the environmental aspects, such as the use of chemicals, in the production of natural rubber, labor conditions have received limited attention.
In 2019, the Fair Labor Association partnered with the International Organization for Migration and three global footwear and sporting goods companies – adidas, New Balance, and Puma – that source shoes and sporting goods from Vietnam, on a project to map natural rubber. The project had two primary objectives:
- Map the natural rubber value chain in Vietnam to understand supply chain structure, worker demographics, the process of recruiting workers, and working conditions across the tiers of the natural rubber supply chain.
- Inform participating companies about supply chain mapping through an action-based learning approach to help companies identify gaps in the internal supply chain management systems and understand internal and external practices that can streamline mapping in the future.
The project is part of a broader strategy by the FLA to test concepts and approaches that will improve labor standards across global value chains, especially upstream.