“Alternative facts” in a report by the Swiss association of commodity traders

A recent report entitled Commodity Trading Monitoring Report claims to be the “first scientific study” of the very secretive commodities market in Switzerland. But it is in fact merely a lobbying instrument created by the STSA trading association, and it demonstrates yet again how this impenetrable sector fails to communicate reliable data.

Some of the main data in the report was made public several months ago: the Geneva-based Swiss Trading and Shipping Association (STSA) leaked the information to the media well before the paper was published. They used the information to exaggerate the importance of the sector in the Swiss economic panorama, thus strengthening the weight of their threats to leave the country should there be a political decision to regulate this industry. They based this position on the pseudo-scientific statement according to which commodity trading is said to employ 36,154 people. This figure is in fact 3.5 times higher than that published by the Federal Council in its 2013 report. What could lie behind such rapid expansion? The figures are based on an unpublished list of corporations, many of which are not in any way involved in commodity trading. This is clearly demonstrated in our analysis of this misleading report and its methodological discrepancies.

Public Eye has also drawn up a list of Swiss corporations that are involved in commodity trading. And unlike that published by the lobby, we are publishing all the names of those corporations identified. On the basis of the 400 companies on our list that genuinely employ people, the Federal Statistical Office calculates these provide 7,594 jobs. This is four times fewer than the exaggerated figures put forward by the STSA. The Trading Association’s report was drafted by the person in charge of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) for the lobby, and supervised by employees of the University of Geneva, who also carried out statistical analyses and have exclusive access to the raw data. The fruit of their work was published on the website of the Swiss Research Institute on Commodities, whose Foundation Council includes the General Secretary of the STSA as one of its eight members, as well as the president of the Swiss Association of Coffee Traders.

The fact that this report is misleading, as well as the dubious way it is being used, is all the more disturbing given that the data comes from a survey carried out in the multi-stakeholder process jointly run by the State Secretariat on Economy, and the Federal Department for Foreign Affairs. It is in this context that the guidelines for the implementation of the guiding principles of the UN on corporations and human rights (recommendation 11 of the Background report on commodities) are supposed to be drafted. The STSA report is part of the sector “mapping” exercise. It is incomprehensible that the Confederation should have entrusted such essential tasks for the future of the process to a lobby. The scandalous results demonstrate that we are unable to count on the goodwill of the sector to gather the relevant data. The Confederation should have the means at its disposal to oblige corporations to cooperate. The National Bank already does this to calculate– in the category of “transit trade” –the overall turnover of the commodities trading industry.

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Alternative Facts from the Swiss Commodity Trading Lobby

Database Switzerland commodity trading sector