Economic Colonialism: Who Really Pays for Your Tires?

Rubber Tires: A Dirty Business

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary examines the brutally exploitive and unsustainable conditions in which tires are produced.

The filmmakers begin by visiting rubber plantations in Thailand, the world’s largest rubber producer. On one of the largest rubber plantations, Cambodian immigrants (Thai workers refuse to work for the starvation wages offered) receive approximately half the minimum wage ($140/month), despite working everyday and four nights a week. They are also exposed to Paraquat, a deadly herbicide causing severe liver and kidney disease and banned in 32 countries.

Pay and working conditions in Thai rubber processing plants are somewhat better. There workers earn $150/month ($250/month in the busy season), plus free accommodation and electricity and 20 kg of rice a month. Unlike plantations workers, they live in shacks provided with kitchens and bathrooms.

The filmmakers also visit Cambodian rubber plantations, where they speak with villagers who have been illegally driven off their land to make way for rubber plantations.

The final segment of the film investigates the tire retread industry, which recycles old tires by putting new tread on them. Studies reveal that modern retreaded tires are just as safe and reliable as new ones, despite using 80% less new rubber than new tires. With global demand for tires increasing by 7% annually, there needs to be a much greater effort to market retreaded tires to sustainability conscious consumers.

The tire manufacturers DW contacted about the atrocious working conditions on their rubber plantations and in their processing plants (Goodyear, Bridgestone, Michelin, and Continental) declined to be interviewed.