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Firms pledge aid to quake victims

Swiss firms are adding their voice to calls for help from southeast Asia Keystone

Swiss companies have pledged more than SFr20 million ($17 million) to help survivors of the Asian tsunami disaster and rebuild damaged areas.

This content was published on January 5, 2005 - 14:21

Among the biggest spenders to date are the country’s largest bank UBS, the cement producer Holcim, the Swatch Group, Zurich Financial Services and the pharmaceuticals company Novartis.

UBS is to donate SFr3.44 million, Holcim SFr3 million, Swatch SFr2.5 million, with Zurich and Novartis each chipping in SFr2.29 million.

The most generous according to the amount pledged as a percentage of annual sales are Swatch, the trading concern DKSH (formerly Diethelm Keller Siber Hegner) and Holcim, a survey compiled by the “Tages-Anzeiger” newspaper indicated.

Holcim announced in a communiqué on Tuesday that its donation would be transferred to special relief funds established by group companies in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia.

Fund representatives, acting with the authorities and partner organisations, would be evaluating and providing financial support for local projects, focusing mainly on rebuilding schools, hospitals and homes.

Novel ways

Some firms have found novel ways of raising money and helping relief operations. For example, the national airline Swiss is donating SFr10 for every booking received on its website until Sunday.

It is also giving ten per cent of the January revenue from duty-free sales on board its flights to the charity Swiss Solidarity, and making cargo space available free of charge.

Others are giving in kind, among them Nestlé, the electricity company Axpo, the plastics group Sarna and the pharmaceutical concern Roche.

Donations are expected to increase over the coming days and weeks as many companies have not yet worked out exactly how they will help.

Many Swiss companies have interests in Asia and it is therefore felt appropriate that they dig deep into their pockets.

“Swiss companies on a global level are very generous because the export industry of Switzerland is heavily committed in the Asian countries,” communications expert Klaus Stöhlker told swissinfo.

“That’s why companies like UBS, Novartis, Nestlé and others are really able to donate a lot of money to those countries.”

Public relations

Stöhlker agrees that there is also a public relations exercise going on.

“But you must see it all in a global perspective. It’s also a public affairs exercise for the United States, the Japanese and the French government. Governments use these kinds of tragic events to position themselves in those areas.”

“Swiss companies like Nestlé and Novartis are acting like huge governments in the economy. They are playing the same game,” he commented.

Stöhlker says that most are following an old rule of communication, which says: Do something good and talk about it.

“Christians many years ago said that even God needed bells to promote his story. You have to talk about what you are doing otherwise it will not be seen or heard,” he explained.

Private

But some Swiss companies will donate but keep it private, not wanting to follow the crowd.

“Some people are using US marketing styles to beat the drum as loud as possible, and others stay quiet and follow their principles,” Stöhlker said.

The media also has its own agenda in the tragedy, with Stöhlker believing it plays a “decisive” role with its reports in helping to collect money for survivors and the devastated regions.

“But when the media changes course and looks out for the next great theme, the money will trickle to nothing. It’s a little bit cynical… the media is also playing a game,” he told swissinfo.

“They need readers, listeners and people behind the TV screens, and at the moment, the tsunami at Christmas is a great story.”

swissinfo, Robert Brookes

Key facts

Donations:
UBS - SFr3.44 million
Holcim - SFr3 million
Swatch Group - SFr2.5 million
Zurich Financial Services – SFr2.29 million
Novartis - SFr2.29 million.
Adecco – SFr1.545 million
DKSH – SFr1.3 million
Swisscom – SFr1 million

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In brief

Swiss companies have to date pledged more than SFr20 million ($17 million) to help relief operations after the tidal wave disaster in southeast Asia.

Much more is expected over the coming weeks because many companies have not yet worked out how they will react.

Some companies, among them the airline Swiss, have come up with novel ways of responding to the disaster.

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