Transparency in the Extractive Industries – the Role of Commodity Superpower Switzerland

Shedding light on darkness: Switzerland has become the world’s leading commodity trading hub and will have to contribute to the emerging global transparency framework. On January 16 in Geneva and on January 17 in Bern SWISSAID is organizing a conference about these pending issues.

The global movement for transparency in the extractive industries is at a crossroads. The U.S. is implementing binding regulations for greater transparency of industry payments to governments, the European Union will follow suit. And the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative EITI is currently revising its rules. Meanwhile, the debate on expanding transparency is heating up: should contracts and licenses be made public? And how should the commodity trading sector be dealt with?

Switzerland has become the world’s leading commodity trading hub and will have to contribute to the emerging global transparency framework. The federal administration is reviewing the sector and a regulation proposal is pending in parliament. The conference will present the major global trends in this debate which is crucial for an ever more important sector of the Swiss economy. Gathering the relevant stakeholders and political actors the panel will then address the questions of how, and how fast, Switzerland will meet the respective challenges.

The background of the debate is the fact that many people in resource-rich countries such as Niger, Angola or Congo remain mired in deep poverty. One of the reasons for this “resource curse” is the lack of transparency in financial flows between commodity companies and the governments of host countries. Only with access to detailed information on how much money is paid for extracting a country’s natural resources can the people hold their government to account, fight corruption and embezzlement and demand the allocation of the resource rent for the sustainable development of their country.

In order to attain these goals, the global NGO coalition „Publish What You Pay“ (PWYP) was founded ten years ago. It was followed shortly thereafter by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) which includes governments, extractive companies and civil society. Today, PWYP has more than 700 members all over the world, while EITI is building trust and providing revenue transparency in 37 countries. Those two organizations spearheaded the discussion on extractive industries financial flows; and within ten years only, the issue evolved from state secret to a mainstream political debate.