Jim Armitage: Tullow Oil puts Swiss to shame, but do they care?

Jim Armitage
Thursday 27 March 2014 01:00 GMT

Outlook Tullow Oil deserved more praise than it got this week for becoming the first of the serious oil companies to offer, finally, full disclosure of how much local tax it pays for exploring in some of the world's poorest countries.

Such transparency is the best way to prevent the kind of backhanders and offshore shenanigans which tarnish the reputations of many Western oil explorers.

So it was disappointment, if not surprise, that met Switzerland's brief report into its uber-secretive commodities trading industry yesterday. The 19 pages hardly did justice to an industry that provides Switzerland with Sfr19bn (£13bn) in tax receipts a year and handles around a quarter of the world's raw materials trades.

Switzerland has been the subject of repeated complaints from anti-corruption organisations for the lack of transparency with which commodities traders are able to operate in the country. So last year it launched an "action plan". Many described it as more of an inaction plan. Despite a welter of lobbying for legally binding regulation, it refused, keeping codes of conduct strictly voluntary.

Inevitably, then, yesterday's 12-months-on update had little new to say. Committees had been formed, reviews begun, but not much of substance seems to have been achieved. Instead, the need for Switzerland to keep its competitive advantage got five mentions in the first page alone. One section even lauded how the government had established a working group to co-operate with "stakeholders" including anti-corruption NGOs. But what the report failed to mention, as the Berne Declaration pressure group pointed out, was that all 10 NGOs involved have now refused to take part due to companies' intransigence.

The industry holds its annual conference in Lausanne next week. Transparency and regulation are on the agenda, at least, but don't hold your breath.

Meanwhile, at the other end of Lac Léman, in Geneva, money-laundering investigators pore over the coal trading empire of Viktor Yanukovych's son, while commodities giant Gunvor has its Russian founder slapped on the US sanctions list.

Still, no need for too much regulation, eh lads?

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