The Investigation Award
Shedding light on hidden wrongdoings can change the world. For this reason, Public Eye is now promoting for the third time its Investigation Award, set up for the first time on the occasion of its 50th birthday in 2018. The grant is aimed at supporting media professionals and NGOs, encouraging them to investigate the activities of Swiss companies in developing countries and their ramifications in terms of human rights violations, environmental damage or financial crimes.
A necessary prize
With the launch of the Investigation Award on its 50th birthday, Public Eye fulfilled a longstanding desire. The new award is aimed at enabling journalists and investigative NGOs to look into Swiss companies, whether registered here or with a significant presence in Switzerland, whose activities negatively impact the economy of disadvantaged countries.
Over 40 applications were submitted in these first two years. This clearly shows how many important ideas are out there. However, at the same time, this also reveals the extent to which many reporters, correspondents and civil society players often lack the resources necessary to undertake costly research. Thus, Public Eye has decided to set up the award for a third time. In fact, we believe that only the uncovering of actual cases of irresponsible corporate behaviour can lead to the necessary social debates and political changes, so that such misconduct may be prevented in the future, or at least punished.
A prestigious jury
The winning projects of the Investigation Award are chosen by a jury of eight members, which includes Public Eye employees as well as internationally renowned and well-networked investigative professionals with many years of research expertise.
- Anya Schiffrin is the director of the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs’ International Media, Advocacy, and Communications Specialization, and has published several books on journalism, including her most recent one Global Muckraking. Before she worked for Reuters News Agency in Spain and was head of the Wall Street Journal bureau in the Netherlands and Vietnam. She is also on the advisory board of the George Soros' Open Society Foundation and of the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI), which specialises in commodities policy.
- Oliver Zihlmann is co-head of Tamedia's investigation unit in Bern (for Tages-Anzeiger, Sonntagszeitung, Le Matin, Tribune de Genève). He holds a PhD in History, is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), and has led the Swiss team that worked on the Swiss Leaks, Panama Papers and Paradise Papers stories. He previously worked for Swiss television and as a correspondent in Berlin. He is also the author of a political book entitled Der Fall Borer.
- Australian journalist Will Fitzgibbon has, since 2014, been working as a senior reporter for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which spearheaded investigations such as Swiss Leaks and the Paradise Papers. He is coordinating the collaborations with ICIJ’s African and Middle Eastern partners. Previously, he worked at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London and holds a Master's Degree in Science from the London School of Economics.
- Alexandra Gillies is Director of the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium, a partnership between OCCRP (Organized Crime And Corruption Reporting Project) and Transparency International, bringing together investigative journalism and civil society advocacy in the fight against transnational corruption. Previously, she worked many years at NRGI promoting transparency and fighting corruption in the oil business, mining and commodity trading. An advisor to the World Bank and various UN organisations, in 2020 she published the book "Crude Intentions: How Oil Corruption Contaminates the World".
- Géraldine Viret has been active as Public Eye’s Media Directress for over ten years. She holds a Master in Language and Literature. Her field of specialisation is comparative literature, and she is passionate about the writing of collective memory and trauma. A graduate in ‘corporate communication’, she writes articles for Public Eye and the Trigon Foundation, the latter of which is committed to promoting film works from developing and emerging countries.
- An environmental scientist and geographer, Carla Hoinkes has been leading Public Eye's Agriculture and Food department for several years. Her research into the excesses of the globalised agricultural industry sometimes takes her to remote, inhospitable corners of the world, such as the soy crops causing deforestation in central Brazil's Mato Grosso.
- Agathe Duparc has been working as an investigative journalist for Public Eye’s Commodities and Finance department since 2018. With extensive expertise in Russian Affairs and Economic Crime, she wrote for Le Monde newspaper as a Moscow correspondent. At Mediapart she took part in several investigations, including on the Russian financing of Marine Le Pen. She is co-author of “Gunvor au Congo. Les aventures d’un négociant genevois à Brazzaville” (Gunvor in Congo. The Adventures of a Geneva Trader in Brazzaville). In 2021, she collaborated in the "Congo Hold-up" investigation with the media and NGO consortium.
- Media Director Oliver Classen has been a member of the Public Eye team for over a decade. Co-author of Public Eye’s best-selling book ”Commodities: Switzerland’s most dangerous business”, he was, for several years, also in charge of coordinating the Public Eye Awards, a counter-summit to the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. He previously worked as a journalist, among others for Handelszeitung, Aargauer Zeitung or Tages-Anzeiger, and still writes occasional articles for Neue Zürcher Zeitung or Werbewoche.
The winners 2018
For the first edition of the Investigation Award, the same prestigious jury as 2020 selected two projects from 55 proposals submitted from 22 countries to shine a spotlight on dubious practices used by Swiss companies in poor countries. Lausanne-based reporter Marie Maurisse examined the secret recipes used by Swiss tobacco companies and and Gie Goris of MO* Magazine (Belgium), together with Nicola Mulinaris from the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, uncovered the role of Swiss companies in the uncontrolled dismantling of ships in southern Asia.
«Toxic cigarettes for Africa»
According to Maurisse’s findings, in 2017 some 2,900 tonnes – or 3,625 billion cigarettes – were exported from Switzerland to Morocco. Tests exclusive undertaken for her story about “The blazing success of Swiss cigarettes in Africa” revealed a scandalous double standard: cigarettes produced by Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco International (JTI) in Switzerland and sold in Morocco contained markedly higher levels of particles, nicotine and carbon monoxide than those produced for the domestic market.
«Savage ship dismantling in Asia»
Goris looked for signs of Swiss shipping companies in the Indian town of Alang, where ships go to die in secret. There, he met middle-aged wrecks, angry trade unionists and workers deprived of their rights and risking their health on a daily basis for a meagre wage. Even MSC uses Alang to dispose of its floating toxic waste. The “recycling” methods of the Geneva-based company show the vast rift between sustainability promises and the reality of the Swiss shipping industry leaders’ business practices.
The 2020 Winning Project
Shortly after the call for applications, the world (as well as journalists) were primarily focused on overcoming the Covid 19 pandemic and thus, we were able to receive ‘only’ 44 project proposals by April 2020, ie.10 fewer than in 2018. Among the submissions, the expert jury, comprehensive of three external and three internal investigative professionals, chose two winning projects: one was published with a long delay, while the other, unfortunately, did not go through. This was due, on the one hand, to limited work resources and repeated travel restrictions, which made direct contact with informants massively difficult. In addition, as a result of career change, the award winner was forced to abandon journalism.
Belgrade-based journalist Milorad Ivanovic shows the magnitude of the harmful emissions from a northern Serbian Holcim cement factory for the population of the industrial town of Beočin and how the Zug company systematically violates the legal limits there. Moreover, the factual and evocative descriptions of the "Balkan Investigative Research Network" (BIRN) explain why the Swiss industry leader has so far remained unpunished despite its massive air pollution.
The winners 2023
Following the success of the first two awards, in 2018 and 2020, Public Eye has for the third time announced its Investigation Award. Human rights violations, environmental damage and corruption scandals: in 2023, more than 20 journalists from around the world submitted their proposals for investigations into the activities of Swiss companies in impoverished countries. The jury, made up of eight specialists, has this time chosen to reward two totally different projects in terms of methodology and geography.
- Innovative cross-referencing of several databases to show how Swiss Re systematically violated its own sustainability criteria by selling insurance to large farming corporations in Brazil.
- A report on the sapphire mines of Madagascar, where the precious gems – purchased notably by Swiss jewellers and watchmakers – are extracted in inhumane conditions.
Focus on Global Justice
Although it focuses on present action, the Investigation Award was set up to celebrate Public Eye’s anniversary and reflects the organisation’s long tradition of investigative journalism; Public Eye has always associated its advocacy and campaigning with the often arduous process of shedding light on illegitimate or illegal activities against which action must be taken.