Following a media report revealing that Swiss army boots are produced by underpaid workers in Romania, politicians have reacted strongly.
The reportexternal link, by the current affairs programme Rundschau on Swiss public television, SRF, found that many workers in a factory in northern Romania earn less than CHF2 ($2) an hour, or CHF300 per month. Although this is the minimum wage, the programme found it is insufficient to live on.
According to Rundschau, the Swiss army ordered 80,000 new boots from the Italian company, AKUexternal link, which outsources the production to Romania.
The factory manager explained in the report that the low salary paid is the minimum wage set by the Romanian parliament, and only one in five workers in the plant earns such a low amount.
However, members from across Switzerland’s political spectrum expressed their surprise and in some cases outrage at the report’s findings. SRF online spoke to members of the security commission of the Senate.
“I’m not against army material produced abroad but this should only be done under humane working conditions,” replied Jakob Büchler of the centre-right Christian Democratic Party. “The proposal for a new procurement law must be reviewed. There is obviously need for action.”
Shock was the word used by Priska Seiler Graf of the left-wing Social Democrats. She said it was a result of the government’s effort to save money, and would damage Switzerland’s reputation. “Standards should be defined to make such cases impossible.”
Compete on price
David Zuberbühler of the conservative right Swiss People’s Party said material for the Swiss army should be produced whenever possible in Switzerland in order to strengthen Swiss industry. However he questioned whether there was a Swiss manufacturer “who can compete on price”.
“I can’t judge this individual case but there must have been a system error allowing for the contract to go to the lowest bidder,” added Walter Müller of the centre-right Radical party.
Rosmarie Quadranti of the centre-right Conservative Democrats agreed with Büchler, calling for a review of the procurement law to include social and ecological standards. “The army is paid for by our taxes and this money should be invested in Switzerland. I shop in my village and not in Germany where everything is cheaper.”
When asked for its response, Armasuisseexternal link, the procurement arm of the military, said it implements current laws and refused to comment on the political aspect, or how certain criteria is weighted when awarding contracts.