Contact theSOPAbout theSOPSupport theSOPWritersEditorsManaging Editors
theSOP logo
Published:December 16th, 2009 10:04 EST
Swiss Companies Respond to Potential Boycott (Exclusive to The SOP)

Swiss Companies Respond to Potential Boycott (Exclusive to The SOP)

By Geoff Dean

 The calls for a boycott of Switzerland still remain fairly muted. Many, especially although not exclusively, in the Islamic/Arab World have been incensed by the decision of Swiss voters to ban the building of new minarets, coming on the heels of a number of vandalism incidents at mosques in Switzerland. Some have suggested, as the Earth Times did in an editorial, that this might eventually grow into a major irritant, similar to the Danish cartoon crisis. To this point, however, that seems unlikely.

 It is true that Egemen Bagis, Turkey`s chief negotiator with the EU, has suggested that this may be "an opportunity for our Muslim brothers to review their decision to put their money in Swiss banks." And the editor-in-chief of Tishreen, a Syrian newspaper, has called for a boycott of Swiss goods. There have even been quiet rumblings about moving some UN offices out of Geneva or at least, downgrading the functions of the offices in the Swiss city.

 Still, all in all, to this point, the reaction has been mild. Some have claimed that this may be due to severe restrictions on building churches in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations. Still, for Swiss, it must not be pleasant to be lumped in the same category with perennial human rights and religious freedom deniers such as the Saudis.

 Be that as it may, Swiss companies have reason to be scared. The Swiss economy largely rests on tourism, exports, and banking, all of which could be significantly damaged by a widespread boycott by Islamic countries. To that end, I attempted to contact several Swiss multinationals to get there take on the potential crisis.

 While Swiss Air and UBS (Swiss` largest banking institution) declined comment, Lindt and Sprungli Chocolates, a major exporter of chocolate around the world, including the Islamic world, gave the SOP a statement. According to Nina Keller of the Corporate Communications office, the company "has not felt any consequences so far" and "relies on its long-standing relationship with partners in Muslim countries ". Furthermore, Ms. Keller adds, her company "firmly believes in mutual trust and freedom of religion." Next time you buy some chocolate, ask yourself if the company in question really cares about freedom of religion. Chocolate with a conscience!

 Serena Chiesura, Head of Corporate Communications, also responded to my contact, saying they have had "no negative feedback" nor do they "expect any." She quoted CEO, Nick Hayek, commenting in Swiss weekly newspaper, NZZ am Sontag, "We have more confidence in people`s common sense than in a few politicians calling for a boycott of Swiss products." Common sense? Calling for a boycott goes against common sense? Where was this "people`s common sense" when a minaret ban was approved in the first place?

 Unlike the Danish cartoon controversy, where there could be a debate over freedom of speech or the headscarf ban in French public schools, which included the issue of girls forced to wear them, I can find no justification for a ban on minaret construction. If you can, please let me know. Imagine a country allowing the construction of churches but denying them the right to display a cross on the building. Would religious liberty advocates be satisfied?

 Beyond that, banning minarets does nothing since it does not ban mosque construction per se, nothing, that is, except provoke Swiss Muslims for no apparent reason. If the goal is controlling the WSJ`s famous "radical imams" (I call on the Journal to point who these radical Swiss imams are. Swiss Muslims are among the most moderate and assimilated in all of Europe), how does banning minaret construction have any impact in that direction? What does a ban on minaret construction accomplish besides possibly radicalizing a few Swiss Muslims and/or making Switzerland a terrorist target?

 It is interesting that both Swatch and Lindt were quick to point out that while they are Swiss headquartered companies, they were multinational, a gentle disassociation from their potential pariah nation of birth. I may lack Mr. Hayek`s common sense but I call on people of conscience everywhere to boycott traveling to Switzerland, buying Swiss products, and using Swiss banks. Few countries in the world are so vulnerable to this kind of pressure. And, as I have been reading in an excellent treatise on the Holocaust, "The War on the Jews", when small religious intolerances are overlooked, they seldom stay small.