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1 Dec 2021

Public Eye

Research alleges Swiss commodity traders own land worldwide, but fail to take responsibility for abuse to people and planet, incl. intimidation, deforestation & land grabbing

"Abholzung, Einschüchterung, Landgrabbing: Wie Schweizer Agrarhändler als Plantagenbesitzer agieren", 1 December 2021

[Unofficially translated from German]

Switzerland is the world's largest trading hub for agricultural commodities. Over 50 percent of the grain, 40 percent of the sugar and every third coffee and cocoa bean are traded by Swiss traders. The data collected and analyzed by Public Eye show for the first time that Swiss retail groups such as Cargill, Cofco, or LDC have long been cultivating their own crops and managing over 550 plantations on at least 2.7 million hectares. In a total of 24 countries, almost all of which are in the Global South, they produce sugar cane, palm oil and grain, but also soy, rubber, coffee, oranges, bananas and even rice. The traders control these plantations directly and are therefore directly responsible for compliance with human rights and environmental standards there.

However, as Public Eye's research shows in ten exemplary cases, the agricultural trading groups often do not adequately meet this responsibility. This is illustrated by what is probably the most notorious case of land grabbing in Uganda: 20 years ago, 4000 people were forcibly evicted by the army because of a coffee plantation owned by the German Neumann Coffee Group (NKG). Those affected are waiting until today for adequate compensation. The Swiss branch, which not only handles the green coffee trade for NKG, but is also responsible for plantation management - also in Uganda, shares responsibility for this. Another example: In 2008, in the Cambodian region of Mondulkiri, indigenous communities involuntarily had to give way to a palm oil plantation owned by the trader Socfin. A mediation process that began in 2017 has so far not been able to remedy the situation. Here, too, the responsibility: The Swiss branches of Socfin, which are responsible for both the trading business and the plantation management.

The repeatedly pointed out grievances in the cultivation of agricultural raw materials illustrate the need for political action. Although the Federal Council recognizes that there are “challenges” in the raw materials sector with regard to human rights and the environment, the focus of the measures, which are far too weak, is on energy and mineral raw materials, while the agricultural raw material trade and the associated grievances have not yet received any attention. His argument that regulation of the sector is unnecessary as the activities of the extractive industry are under the indirect supervision of the banks that finance them does not work either. An analysis by Public Eye on the financing of agricultural traders shows that the Swiss banks are irrelevant in this regard. So it is high time that official Switzerland recognized the specific grievances in this sector and finally took the regulation of the entire raw materials industry demanded by Public Eye by hand.