Big Spenders Swiss trading companies, African oil and the risks of opacity

The sale of crude oil by governments and their national oil companies (NOCs) is one of the least scrutinized aspects of oil sector governance. This report is the first detailed examination of those sales, and focuses on the top ten oil exporting countries in sub-Saharan Africa. From 2011 to 2013, the governments of these countries sold over 2.3 billion barrels of oil. These sales, worth more than $250 billion, equal a staggering 56 percent of their combined government revenues.

Swiss commodity trading companies buy a considerable share of the oil sold by African governments. The payments made by Swiss companies generate a significant portion of public revenues in some of the world’s poorest countries, and are subject to governance risks as they take place in environments of weak institutions and widespread corruption. To date, however, these important transactions have escaped oversight due to opaque corporate practices and weak regulation.

With the aim of shedding light in this historically dark area, we gathered information on 1,500 individual oil sales made by NOCs in sub-Saharan Africa in the 2011–2013 period. While this sample represents a large majority of the total, the secrecy that prevails in this part of the oil sector prevented us from gathering comprehensive data, and the caveats to our findings are explained in the full text of the report. Nonetheless, the available data leaves no doubt about the vast scale of purchases by Swiss traders.

You may download our report and its executive summary below.