Broad dialogue on commodity trade and human rights initiated
Economiesuisse received various commodity trading players this week to discuss responsible management in the industry. The focus was on due diligence in the field of human rights. Examples from the cocoa and metal mining sectors show that the industry has already made measurable progress. However, important challenges remain.
Switzerland is one of the world’s leading hubs for the trade in agricultural commodities, crude oil, metals and minerals. In Germany, around 900 companies are active in commodity trading, which in turn employ around 10,000 people. The sector is correspondingly important for the local economy. At the same time, commodity trading in Switzerland is repeatedly the subject of criticism. In particular, the companies concerned are accused of a lack of transparency or disregard for human rights in politically unstable countries.
WORKSHOP WITH BROAD PARTICIPATION OF THE SWISS COMMODITY TRADING CENTRE
Together with the Institute for Business Ethics at the University of St. Gallen and the Commodity Club Switzerland, economiesuisse has therefore investigated the question of how human rights due diligence obligations are implemented in practice. Within the framework of a workshop, representatives of various raw material sectors could be brought together with exponents from science, administration and consulting. The involvement of all actors relevant to Switzerland as a commodity trading centre has proven to be extremely expedient.
CONCRETE MEASURES IN THE CONTEXT OF HUMAN RIGHTS DUE DILIGENCE
The discussion clearly stated that the industry has already made measurable progress in terms of responsible management. Many companies have stepped up their efforts to identify negative impacts of their business activities on human rights and to take preventive measures. Last year, for example, the Swiss coffee trade entered into a public-private partnership with the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO to close income gaps for Colombian coffee farmers. And also in metal mining, proof of a well-developed and efficient social management system (including Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) certification) is increasingly required.
REGULATORY DEVELOPMENTS, BUT ALSO STRICTER REQUIREMENTS FOR INVESTORS
Years ago, a rethinking in the industry began with specific initiatives. This development has been reinforced by national and international rules. In addition, investors and customers today demand more transparency. Finally, media coverage has also led to companies improving their practices in dealing with human rights and reporting more transparently, as research by the University of St. Gallen shows.
CHALLENGES NEED TO BE ADDRESSED
Despite this progress, there are still various challenges that need to be addressed. In this way, the local population should be better informed and involved in project projects of raw material companies. The establishment of complaints offices is also becoming increasingly important. In addition, commodity trading companies should carry out more comprehensive planning, which also identifies medium- and longer-term human rights risks and manages the handling of them.
economiesuisse welcomes the fact that this workshop has initiated a broad dialogue on commodity trading and human rights and strives to continue this in favor of sustainable commodity trading in Switzerland.