...then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon forest. Now I know I'm fighting for humanity. »
— Chico Mendes, leading activist in the struggle to protect the Amazon forest. Assassinated by land owners because of his beliefs
Chico Mendes and his wife, Ilsamar Mendes In their Xapuri home in the Brazilian state of Acre, 1988
© Miranda Smith, Miranda Productions, Inc.
House occupied by a family of seringueiros Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve, Amazon, 2013
© Vincent Desailly
Since 2004, we purchased 130 tons of wild rubber, this allowed us to preserve 120 000 hectares of the Amazon forest.
This material is used in the sole of every sneaker. We buy rubber in the Amazon forest, directly from seringueiro communities.
VEJA soles are made of 30 to 40 % natural rubber.
For a kilo of harvested rubber, 1.2 ha of forest is protected every year.
In 2017, VEJA bought wild Brazilian rubber for 2.77€/kg. By comparison, synthetic rubber is negotiated according to crude oil prices and varies between 1.35€/kg and 2.55€/kg.
Our goal is to enhance the economic value of the forest in order to protect it.
GPS location of rubber producers
VEJA team trip to the Chico Mendes Reserve.
© Studio VEJA
The Amazon is the only place on Earth where rubber trees grow in the wild. In the Brazilian state of Acre, the seringueiros, rubber tappers, harvest the rubber used in VEJA soles.
Seringueiro tapping rubber tree. Amazon, 2016
© Ludovic Carème
Excerpt from the VEJA travel journal
October 17, 2016 :
We met senhor Antonio last week in the Amazon. He introduced us to his wife and family, his children and grandchildren. He took us into the forest, and, while walking, he told us his story.
He's always been a seringueiro, like his father, who made a living from the forest before him. He fought for his freedom alongside Chico Mendes, the famous Brazilian labour activist, in the 1980s.
AntonioChico Mendes Reserve Seringueiro
© Studio VEJA
Three years ago, he took his entire family and stood his ground in front of the trees, facing a few dozen lumberjacks hired by a Japanese corporation to clear the forest with bulldozers.
The lumberjacks threatened to kill him, and then the police came and arrested him. The entire community told the cops: "If you take him away, we're all coming with you." Antonio sued the logging company and won his case: the trees are still standing.
Listening to him was devastating, because we didn't know these kinds of practices were still going on. But in fact, yes, illegal deforestation still goes on in the Amazon, and yes, there are people like Antonio who fight, who devote their lives to protecting tropical forests.
Last year, we bought 300 kilos of rubber from his son Pedro — which we used to make 1,400 pairs of sneakers.
Getting our rubber supplies from the wild helps protect the forest.
Since 2007, VEJA has been working with Bia Saldanha. This environmental activist is known for her involvement in protecting the Amazon forest. She has worked with local seringueiros communities and met the activist leader Chico Mendes, thanks to her cofoundation of the Brazilian green party in 1983.
To protect the forest, she supports the seringueiros on a daily basis in their work and coordinates the various parties involved in rubber production for VEJA. She also provides technical support, which allows the seringueiros to transform their raw rubber into a semi-finished product themselves, with the help of the FDL or Liquid Rubber Technology process.
The process of transforming liquid wild rubber into rubber sheets. Amazon, 2016
© Ludovic Carème
The seringueiros are provided with a technical kit co-financed by the State, VEJA and the WWF. This kit contains bottles of pyrolignous acid and a calender. Once harvested, the liquid rubber — it looks like milk but thicker — is collected in barrels. The rubber is mixed with pyrolignous acid in the calender, which provokes its coagulation. From that step, seringueiros obtain rubber paste. It is then spread into sheets of about 1 m x 1 m x 2 cm, hung to dry like laundry. Once dry, they are stacked in piles of 100 sheets.
This technique allows the rubber to reach a higher purity as it does not suffer from oxidation and ensures a greater elasticity.
She refuses to let this culture of workers who make a living from the wild rubber harvest disappear.
This process is both a technological and social innovation since it also creates value within the supply chain and generates more revenues for the rubber producers, who sell a semi-finished product. It therefore reduces the financial incentives of deforestation.