Cabinet applauds change, NGOs demand action

NGOs have called for concrete regulation of commodities companies based in Switzerland Keystone

The Swiss government has expressed satisfaction at the progress it says has been made towards greater transparency in the commodities sector, but NGOs which have been pressing for more responsible attitudes say business has been going on as usual.

This content was published on March 26, 2014 - 17:09 and agencies

The cabinet issued a statement on Wednesday, reviewing progress on implementing 17 recommendations published in March 2013 aimed at tightening rules for commodity traders.

“The interim results show that the relevant departments have been expeditious in implementing the recommendations,” it said, adding that dialogue with the commodities industry and NGOs had been strengthened.

However, the Berne Declaration pressure group described the government as “politically, as well as economically, negligent” for its continuing refusal “to even consider introducing legally binding measures to regulate this high-risk sector”.

The NGO SWISSAID pointed out that the European Union and Canada had toughened their legislation in this area over the past year, while in Switzerland the proposed transparency law had “barely made progress”.

The commodities sector has seen rapid growth in Switzerland over recent years and now accounts for 3.4% of Swiss GDP, but concerns over human rights abuses and environmental damage in countries where the firms operate have led to calls for strict regulation.

However, economics minister, Johann Schneider-Ammann, has explained the government position by its concern that stricter regulation could be damaging, leading to companies leaving Switzerland to base themselves in other locations.

Commodity traders based in Switzerland include Zug-based Glencore-Xstrata, which have been criticised for their mining activities in such countries as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Peru. The company denies doing anything wrong. CEO Ivan Glasenberg told Swiss television in January that the country should be proud of companies like his.

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