Commodity Trade Hotspot Switzerland debate: “no them and us”

St Gallen, 15 November 2012 Bas de Leeuw, Managing Director at WRF opened the Oikos conference at the University of St. Gallen.  He introduced the topic of sustainability presenting the key concepts, challenges and opportunities for improvement in the current situation. This introduction led to the main topic of the conference “Commodity Trade – Hotspot Switzerland”.  










The presentation urged to take  action on sustainable development, showing that there is no need to choose between two extreme attitudes represented by hard and soft approaches – economic gain vs. environment, corporations vs. society,   cheap labor force – local resources etc. The best manner to solve the problem is abandoning the distinction between ‘they’ and ‘us’, where the companies are blamed for negative impact on the society and environment. Consumer’s behavior is influencing big corporations and their decisions, consequently, people purchasing goods can make a difference. Protests and boycotts are a form of putting important issues higher on the public and media agenda, nevertheless   the philosophy of ‘doing more with less’ – consuming and producing more efficiently and differently providing opportunities for the poor – seems to be the way to reach sustainable development.


The speech had an interactive character. Bas was asking numerous questions trying to verify participants’ knowledge about sustainability and making them reflect on possible solutions to existing problems. The students were eager to take part in the discussion and had an active role in the debate expressing their point of view.



After the introduction the discussions continued with the following speakers and topics:

Urs Rybi – Switzerland’s role in global commodity trading

Dr. Bernd Balkenhol – Understanding the social dimension of commodity markets

Dr. Clay Wescott – The challenges of good governance and anticorruption in managing commodity exports

Norbert Rücker & Carsten Menke – What drives commodity prices?

Dr.Frédéric Jenny – Analysing commodity markets from an economic perspective

Marta Lado – Environmental, social, and corporate governance risks in the commodity industry


During the lectures and workshops, participants learned where the opportunities and challenges of the industry lie in respect to economic, social and environmental aspects. The first day of conference was concluded by public panel discussion with experts in the commodity field: Clea Kaske, Corporate Responsibility, Cargill International; Martin Fasser, President, Zug Commodity Association; Martin Saladin, Deputy Head of the Trade Promotion Section, SECO,  Peter Sigg; Head of Investment Management Commodities, LGT; Stefan Grotefeld, Associate Professor of Ethics, University of Zurich; Urs Rybi, Berne Declaration.


Sascha Bianchi, former project associate at the WRF, was part of the conference organizing committee.  




About oikos St. Gallen.  It is a student initiative founded in 1987 and it deals with sustainable development in economy, society and Environment. In order to make people aware of the principle of Sustainability, it informs actively about the actual challenges and discusses innovative and future oriented solutions. The organization’s aim is to sensitize the future decision makers about these issues in Economy and Society. Since 1988 oikos St. Gallen organizes the oikos Conference which, among others, constituted a founding stone for the Institut für Wirtschaft und Ökologie (IWÖ-HSG) as well as the Network for Sustainability and Management ÖBU ( which counts with more than 400 associated companies to this date. Later, oikos St. Gallen members established the oikos Foundation in 1990 and oikos International in 1998. Currently, 35 oikos Local Chapters at universities in Europe, Asia, Africa and America walk the talk towards sustainable economics and management at their faculties and universities (July 2012).


More information about oikos st. gallen here.

Pictures: Robert Stürmer