The issue of raw materials made its way into Swiss politics when the Federal Coun-cil’s Background report on commodities was published in 2013 and became a starting point for a debate that has continued to this day.
However, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has been deal-ing with this issue for a long time. The first activities relating to raw materials date back to the 1990s, with programs to combat mercury usage in artisanal mining in Ec-uador, Bolivia, and from 2000 in Peru as well. The SDC then put these approaches into action in Mongolia and is still using them today.
The commodity report of 2013 also gave the SDC’s work fresh impetus. For several national programs in West Africa and South Africa, the agency is currently considering how the environment can be better protected and how the poorest can be a part of that success, mainly in the framework of governance programs or for the benefit of sustainable economic growth.
Since 2013, the Swiss discussion on raw materials has also underlined that important steps – if not the most important – are taken in rich countries. Switzerland plays a prominent role as a global hub for raw-material trading and an important financial cen-ter. The key question here is how a responsible business conduct can be ensured in domestic commodity companies.
The developing countries bear primary responsibility for their institutional framework and governance. At the same time, Switzerland must avoid potential contradictions in its sectoral policies. For example in the gold sector, in which Switzerland’s policies regarding importing and processing gold (from countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, and Mongolia) and trading industrial mercury are to be carefully coordinated with Swiss development policies in these countries or the strong multilateral commitment to effective mercury management (Minamata Convention). This is the only way that Switzerland can uphold a credible foreign policy around the world and make an effec-tive contribution.
For this reason, the SDC has been participating in the raw materials discussions in Switzerland for many years – and long before the adoption of the 2030 Agenda. Sup-ported by its presence in the country, it uncovers the realities of raw material extrac-tion and trade faced by its partner countries, contributes to informed discussions, and brings Swiss solutions and standards back to the countries, insofar as this is still pos-sible in the face of current substantial funding cuts for international cooperation.