Switzerland, a swamp of commodity sleaze, fears 'time bomb'
Switzerland is facing pressure to tighten up regulations on its fast-growing raw materials trading sector. The authorities and campaigners agree Swiss-based firms pose a potential risk to its image but appear at odds over what to do.It's very simple. Stop attracting dirty money through lax regulation, lax enforcement and supervision, and a lax approach to global crimes. What else would you expect from such an approach, other than a reputation for sleaze?
Switzerland’s commodities sector has grown spectacularly over the past decade, largely unchecked and out of the public eye. It now represents close to 3.5 per cent of gross national product, more than the machine and tourism industries.
And much that we like to criticise Swiss government policies, we need to keep reminding people that Switzerland remains a jurisdiction with many right-thinking people who are outraged at what their country is doing.
“I feel we are sitting on a ticking time bomb,” former Swiss parliamentarian Dick Marty told a conference on business and human rights, organised by the Swiss foreign ministry on September 11.Switzerland has been going for the old 'voluntary principles' route to better regulation, which goes by the shorthand 'the whitewash approach.'
The prosecutor is a supporter of a campaign demanding clear legal rules to force Swiss-based firms to observe human rights and environmental standards worldwide.
“Boards of directors of firms headquartered in Switzerland should be responsible for their subsidiaries’ activities. Also, victims of human rights or environmental disasters who live in countries with ineffective legal systems should be able to seek redress against firms before Swiss courts,” Marty told swissinfo.ch.
The “Corporate Justice” campaign, backed by an alliance of 50 non-governmental groups, in June handed over a petition to the federal authorities signed by 135,285 people. They point to problematic cases involving Glencore subsidiaries in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and those of Xstrata in Peru and Argentina, among others.
The more international attention and pressure that can be brought on to Switzerland in this respect, the better. We tend to agree with Marty - the pressure is only likely to ratchet upwards.