How do you separate the good companies from the bad apples?

Should industry associations start calling out the bad applies in the industry? Keystone / Gian Ehrenzeller

Our regular analysis of what the biggest global companies in Switzerland are up to. This week: dubious gold origins, luxury watch straps, and vaccine deals.

This content was published on August 18, 2020 - 15:13

Gold refineries are under scrutiny for sourcing gold from Dubai traders with questionable ties to illegal mines in Africa. But is it fair to lump all refineries into one basket of bad apples?

Apparently not, according to Cédric Léger who heads the Swiss Association of Traders and Manufacturers of Precious Metals. Over the weekend, Léger told the SonntagsZeitung paper that "gold from dubious sources has no place in Switzerland” and called for stricter regulation of the notoriously opaque trade.

This comes in response to a report from NGO Swissaid released in July alleging that Swiss refinery Valcambi is sourcing gold from scandal-stricken traders in Dubai. The refinery’s purchases from the Kaloti Group are particularly concerning because of alleged links to gold from illegal mines and conflict regions in Africa.

Léger appears to be taking a tough stand, calling on Valcambi to produce evidence refuting the allegations. Another Swiss refinery Metalor decided several years ago to stop processing goldExternal link from Dubai because of its questionable origins.

Companies used to fear being singled out from peers, preferring to hide behind the cover of an industry association.  Could the tide be changing? Are good performers starting to get fed up with peers tarnishing the industry’s reputation?

There is reason to be more scrupulous in separating the good and the bad apples. In an op-ed, Valter Sanches, the General Secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, cites the example of Inditex, owner of fashion brand Zara, which is honouring orders to garment factories so they can continue to pay workers.

Sanches says that many others are taking bailout money and using the crisis as an excuse to force through changes they wouldn’t get away with in normal times.

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In other news:

Private military and security business is booming in Switzerland. The latest government report found more than half of all missions last year took place in North Africa or the Middle East. Switzerland is trying to keep a closer eye on the sector given the potential to start requiring firms to report on their activities and there is talk of more restrictions in the future.

Could this be the end of the exotic leather watchband? Colleague Anand Chandrasekhar looked into how a new ban in California on the sale of alligator and crocodile skin is prompting some Swiss watch brands to reconsider their policies on the luxury item. Swatch claims it only uses sustainable sources that do not endanger the survival of a species but animal rights activists are not convinced.

Swiss firms announce more job cuts amid the pandemic. Swiss lift maker Schindler announced a couple weeks ago it is shedding 2,000 jobs worldwide in the next two years, including 200 in Switzerland. Several other companies including Nestlé and LafargeHolcim are hoping the most difficult months are behind them. But not everyone is faring the same.

The two largest Swiss banks, Credit Suisse and UBS, aren’t complaining. Credit Suisse reported its best second quarter results in a decade. This is thanks in part to the Swiss government’s emergency loan package to help keep companies afloat that turned out pretty rosy for the banks.

Switzerland joined the vaccine hunt. The government just pre-ordered the vaccine from American biotech firm Moderna – its first such move. Some see it as a necessary measure to protect the Swiss population. Critics say the move undermines global efforts for a fair distribution of Covid-19 vaccines – something that Switzerland said it supports. Can it have it both ways?

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