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Firms become more "ethical"

Dominique Biedermann is not afraid to take on the big boys on the Swiss block

(Keystone Archive)

Swiss companies have made some progress as far as corporate governance is concerned, according to Swiss investment fund Ethos.

In its 2005 Corporate Governance Rating, Ethos said that Swiss firms had become more transparent but that there was still room for improvement.

Ethos, a foundation representing 77 Swiss pension funds, made headlines earlier this year when it challenged Nestlé's boardroom decision to grant the double mandate of chairman and CEO to Peter Brabeck.

In issuing its corporate governance report on Wednesday, Ethos gave Swiss companies good marks for improving auditing procedures, capital structure and shareholder rights.

The director of Ethos, Dominique Biedermann, said Swiss businesses still had to make changes to rules governing boardroom appointments.

He added that companies should provide shareholders with greater access to corporate information.

Biedermann said the latter amounted to more details, such as information regarding the size of bonuses awarded to company executives – information that is not required by the Swiss stock exchange.

Bigger is better

Large companies did better on corporate governance than smaller firms, according to the Ethos report.

It also said that corporate governance suffered in enterprises where one shareholder controlled more than a third of the shares.

The Geneva-based investment fund gave top marks to dental-implant company Nobel Biocare, reinsurer Swiss Re and banking giant UBS.

According to Ethos, Switzerland's largest firms score well in international comparisons when it comes to management, control and efficiency.

The principles of corporate governance embrace two main areas: they should establish a balance of power within a company, for instance by separating the roles of executive management and the board of directors.

They should also protect the rights of shareholders over both board and management.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Ethos was set up in 1997 by two Geneva pension funds, and since then it has expanded its membership to 77 Swiss funds.
Ethos maintains a diversified portfolio, and seeks to invest its customers' money in companies with good records in transparency and corporate governance.
The foundation manages pension-fund money to the tune of around SFr1 billion, which is invested in about 250 companies.

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