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The Swiss Commodity Sector as a Matter-of-Public-Concern

The Swiss Commodity Sector as a Matter-of-Public-Concern: Inquiring Processes of Contestation, Justification and Change


Switzerland is one of the leading commodity trading hubs worldwide, both in regard to minerals and metals as well as to soft commodities, accounting for some 15-25% of the global commodities trading volume. Surprisingly, commodity trading firms have long escaped the public spotlight. However, this has changed rapidly in recent years when commodity traders have come under increasing scrutiny and heavy critique for their social and environmental footprint particularly in the Global South.


Content and objectives of the project

The aim of this project is to trace and analyze the process of public critique and scrutiny that the Swiss commodity sector has undergone in recent years. In particular, it aims to show how various networks of actors have turned the sector’s (lack of) responsibility into a matter of major public concern by means of interpretation, translation, and mobilization. Furthermore, it aims to show if and how this critique has led to both rhetorical and practical changes within the industry and to assess and evaluate such changes from a normative perspective. The project is of qualitative nature and based on three theoretical foundations: first, the sociological actor-network-theory of translation; second, the sociological theory of justification; third, normative theories of corporate responsibility.


Scholarly and societal context

This is an interdisciplinary project, which attempts to fuse qualitative methodologies and sociological theories with normative-ethical scholarship. Accordingly, it aims to contribute to a better understanding, both empirically and normatively, of processes of change within contested and criticized markets more generally, and of the Swiss commodity sector in particular.