The Swiss commodity sector has come under increasing scrutiny in the last few years as a result of the substantial growth experienced by global commodity trade since 2002 and the importance of Switzerland as a leading international commodity trading hub.
These developments have put commodity trading squarely on the agenda of Swiss institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Swiss academia has also started engaging in the debate, but faced considerable challenges in contributing to an informed dialogue due to the overall paucity of data still surrounding cross-border and transit activities of Swiss-based commodity companies active in physical and derivatives trading, and the consequent substantial gaps in existing literature as to the impacts associated with commodity investment and trading in Switzerland and in host countries. This paper aims at identifying main knowledge gaps and providing a basis for further academic research on commodity investment and trading, while informing current policy debates and decision-making processes in Switzerland.
Research for this paper was jointly conducted by the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) of the University of Bern, the World Trade Institute (WTI) of the University of Bern, and the Institute for Business Ethics (IWE) of the University of St. Gallen (all Switzerland).
The paper was written in the context of the project “Global change and Developing Countries: why should we care?” managed by the KFPE and ProClim-.
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Diese Veranstaltung der Akademien zeigt Hintergründe, präsentiert nationale und internationale Lösungsansätze und diskutiert brennende Fragen.
Switzerland occupies an important position in the global trade of hard and soft commodities. Companies headquartered within its borders directly or indirectly shape commodity extraction practices around the world, some of which carry considerable negative environmental and social risks on the ground, particularly in fragile contexts. Minimizing these risks and maximizing shared economic gains could enable mutually beneficial development and counteract persistent social and political inequality.
Since the worldwide food price crisis of 2008, foreign investors have rushed to acquire large amounts of agricultural land in poorer coun- tries. Some observers welcome this, claiming that outside investment in ostensibly underused land will jump-start local development. Others regard such investments as land grabs, stressing that the areas are rarely empty and that local people have little say. This brief identifies the types of land targeted by investors and reveals key socio-ecological patterns of such deals. The evidence indicates that foreign investments are inten- sifying competition for the best land. Ensuring that such deals instead contribute to sustainable, inclusive use of land requires strong public guidance and oversight.