Swiss court rules against gold trade transparency: NGO

An activist demonstrates against the use of gold, mined under inhuman conditions, during the 2016 opening ceremony of the world watch and jewellery show "Baselworld" in Basel, Switzerland. Keystone

Switzerland’s Federal Administrative Court has decided in favour of four big gold refineries that were under pressure to disclose their gold suppliers.

This content was published on March 31, 2022 - 18:27

The Bern-based Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) said Thursday that it took note of the court’s decision to “protect business secrecy.”

“Importers can now hide behind trade secrecy and are not accountable to anyone regarding the origin of the raw material and associated risks,” the organisation said in a press release.

In February 2018, STP had submitted a request to the Federal Customs Administration to examine the files relating to the origin of gold imported in Switzerland .

This request was made due to “the complete secrecy in the gold trade”. The had STP raised the question whether Switzerland is a hub for risky goldExternal link in a report focused on gold sourced in the United Arab Emirates and Peru.

“Swiss gold importers fail to take their duty of care seriously enough when it comes to trading gold from the UAE and Peru,” that report concluded.

The Swiss customs authority rejected the request presented by STP, which then launched an arbitration procedure through the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC).

The FDPIC recommended that the demands of the STP be conceded and, as  a result, the customs administration ordered the disclosure of the data.

Toothless due diligence

The gold refineries appealed against this order at the Federal Administrative Court, which decided in favor of the refineries and rejected the NGO’s request.

 "Transparency in the gold trade is the be-all and end-all for a clean and fair gold business," says Christoph Wiedmer, co-manager of STP.  "Without this, due diligence is toothless, as no one can verify the decisions of this audit."

The decision imposed procedural costs of CHF1,000 on STP and CHF 8,000 on the customs administration as compensation for the refineries.

 The STP considers this a punitive measure that discourages simple requests for information that are in the public interest.

The gold refineries arguments – notably that trade relations are subject to commercial secrecy – persuaded the court.

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