When multinationals sell more promises than products – expat guide to Switzerland


Big business today is using advertisements to sell more than just products. Are consumers buying it?

A few weeks ago, I came across an ad printed on the back of a magazine about the Lucerne Music Festival, featuring the image of a very large ear with a hearing aid cleverly layered over a brass instrument. Then I saw the Glencore logo and a text on the importance of zinc and the Swiss mining giant’s commitment to responsible extraction of the raw material. Glencore isn’t trying to sell me zinc or a trumpet, of course. He wants me to buy his promise.

These marketing tactics were once the preserve of brands selling chocolate bars or cleaning products, but today my Twitter feed is filled with corporate ads touting sustainability. Philip Morris International has splashed ads in The New York Times that don’t show a single product but explain why we, the public, should trust science on nicotine.

It’s not just ads, either. In June, the logos of Siemens, Roche and UBS in Switzerland were covered with rainbows on social networks in solidarity with the LGTBQI communities. Is it going too far? The rainbow debacle lights up Munich football stadium shows that these symbols matter but that they cannot be filled with empty promises.

Companies may soon have to back up their promises with real substance. Last week, Reuters reported that some NGOs have filed a complaint for false advertising against Chevron with US authorities, claiming that the small amount the oil giant is spending on renewable energy did not match its advertisements touting its commitments on climate change.

Have you seen similar types of business ads? What do you think of them?

What else caught my attention?

The Attorney General of Switzerland open the probe suspected of corruption in Ecuador by someone in commodities trading circles in Geneva. It comes after a former Gunvor employee pleaded guilty in a New York court to helping funnel millions to Ecuadorian officials in exchange for lucrative contracts with the state oil company. The Swiss investigation seeks to find out whether potential infringements have also been committed under Swiss law. It wouldn’t be the first time for Gunvor or for other traders based in Geneva. It seems that the ministries of justice catch up with a business model who rode a wave in some of the most corrupt countries, writes the FT.

Switzerland supports a global agreement on the minimum corporate tax rate. The government said it had “major reservations” about the proposal but still gave it conditional support, with some 130 countries. It’s a unexpected movement for a country who used low tax rates to attract multinationals. The debate is far from over, but this time Switzerland seems to be in the majority.

Drug trafficking investigations reveal poor oversight of the shipping industry. The seizure of $ 1 billion of cocaine off MSC Guyana in 2019 may have been the largest drug seizure in US history, but it is far from an isolated case. According to UN experts, the illicit drug trade is on the rise and businesses are ill-equipped to deal with it. And drug trafficking is far from being the industry’s only problem, writes my colleague Dominique Soguel. More and more questions are now being raised as to whether the Swiss government should have more oversight over the industry, given the number of people living in Switzerland.

Burmese rubies are making their way into Swiss jewelry. french language paper Time reports that Switzerland has imported an average of 24 million Swiss francs worth of gemstones from Myanmar each year since 2016 and that this did not stop in 2021, despite the military coup. Gemstones are a source of income for the military, raising questions about the ethics of companies that finance or source gemstones from the region. Many luxury brands claim to comply with responsible sourcing laws and standards, but NGOs argue that it is impossible to avoid the military. Some brands like Piaget and Cartier have stopped sourcing precious stones from the country. News comes as Switzerland slaps new sanctions over the country.

Roche and Novartis both got the green light from medical regulators this week. US FDA granted emergency use authorization to Roche Actemra to treat hospital patients patients with Covid-19. And, earlier this week, Swissmedic granted preliminary approval to Novartis’ Zolgensma for the treatment of spinal muscular atrophy. It is the most expensive monotherapy of all time. With the Swissmedic stamp, the public health office can start price negotiations, which could become interesting given the challenges the company has faced in convincing other governments to cover the costs.

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