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Updated: 22 weeks 2 days ago

Your employer might be watching you. Should you care?

Mon, 05/13/2019 - 10:00
Imagine if your employer recorded your every click, step, conversation, and bathroom break to determine your mood, how well you collaborate with people of the same sex, and if you are likely to quit your job next month. This new wave of workforce data analytics, catching on in many industries globally, is raising tough questions in Switzerland with its strong culture of trust and privacy. Recently, an employee at the University of Applied Sciences in Lucerne found an infrared sensor under his desk. While the university claimed the sensors are intended to monitor occupancy rates for building planning purposes, some employees couldn’t brush off the unsettling feeling that they were being watched. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and Big Data are making possible what human resource managers could only imagine a decade ago. But the technologies are not without controversy. The prospect of employee surveillance is alluring to Swiss companies and particularly large ...
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This Swiss woman and her horses belong to Canada’s open spaces

Sun, 05/12/2019 - 11:00
Nicole lives in the wild with her horses in Canada. It's a life surrounded by nature which also has its dangers, as she has discovered.  Only the munching of horses and the barking of dogs disturbs the silence. It is fifteen degrees below freezing and the sky is clear blue. There has been snow on the ground everywhere for months. Hidden in their dens in the forest, the bears are hibernating. Nicole Ulrich chose to come to this remote, wild place and for 11 years it has been her home. Swiss Abroad Swiss journalist Joëlle Weil lives in Israel. In this series, she paints the portrait of Swiss women and men living abroad whom she has met through expatriate groups on Facebook. Nicole left Switzerland to build a new life in Canada, moving with her partner to Quesnel, in the western province of British Colombia. "In Switzerland if you have animals you quickly run short of space," she says. But in Quesnel she has 65 hectares of land for herself and her 20 or so horses. They are not ...
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Counting birds and surprise snowfall

Sat, 05/11/2019 - 17:00
Almost every article published by contains a percentage, an age, an amount of money or some other figure. Here’s a round-up of some of the most interesting statistics to appear in the past week’s stories. 19 Record snowfall for the month of May turned lower-lying regions of Switzerland into a winter landscape last weekend. Nineteen centimetres of snow were recorded in the eastern city of St Gallen. 42.3 The proportion of young women in higher education has risen to 42.3% from 9.8% over the past two decades according to the Federal Statistics Office. They now dominate higher education diplomas. 68,975 This is the number of birds spotted in Swiss parks and gardens by volunteers over one hour last weekend. The most widespread species are the sparrows, the magpies and the blackbirds.  65 Nearly two-thirds of respondents to an opinion poll said they were in favour of tightening Swiss gun laws - an issue that will be put to a nationwide vote on May 19. 3,315 ...
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Playing cats and ladders in Switzerland

Sat, 05/11/2019 - 11:00
One in three Swiss households has a cat. So it's no surprise that the Alpine nation's cat lovers go to extremes to make the lives of their feline best friends more enjoyable. One photographer has documented a peculiar widespread effort to help cats get out and about, no matter how high up they live: cat ladders. These private gangways for cats are usually attached to building façades or drain pipes, allowing cats to traverse the often dizzying heights of Swiss apartment blocks. This allows them both access to the outdoors and the comfort of food and lodgings. Some ladders are more elaborate than others, as we can see in this selection of pictures taken from the book, ‘Swiss Cat Ladders’. While the apparatus exists in other European countries, cat ladders seem to have a high concentration in Swiss cities and villages; they’re not just popular as household pets, farmers also use them to catch mice and other rodents. A cat’s right to roam Fabian Gloor, responsible for tenancy law ...
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Swiss 5G debate heats up with protest in Bern

Fri, 05/10/2019 - 21:48
Simmering opposition to the rollout of 5G technology in Switzerland climbed a notch on Friday as a 1,000-strong protest was held in the capital, Bern. Organised by the Stop5G citizen group, the gathering on Bern’s Waisenhausplatz square – a couple of stone’s throws away from the federal parliament – was the first significant national expression of resistance to plans for a 5G Switzerland. Scientists, doctors, engineers, environmentalists, left-wing politicians, and even a tech-sceptic musician took to the stage to highlight the key demand outlined by event organiser Tamlin Schibler Ulmann: “a national moratorium on 5G development”. Widely-distributed flyers outlined their reasons: health concerns (they fear that diseases from cancer to depression to chronic fatigue may be caused by  electromagnetic waves); the damage to sustainable development of the infrastructure and energy usage of 5G; and the security threat to our private lives that universal connectivity implies. ...
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No symbolic pardon for anti-fascist protestors in Geneva

Fri, 05/10/2019 - 17:00
Parliament has refused to clear the name of seven people found guilty of rioting nearly 90 years ago. The Swiss militia army opened fire on civilians protesting against a meeting of fascists in the city of Geneva in 1932.  “One shot, aim low, fire!” was the order given by first lieutenant Raymond Burnat to his troops, called in to stop a demonstration by militant left-wing protestors rallying in the Plainpalais neighbourhood of Geneva. The shooting lasted all but 12 seconds (see video below) and left 13 people dead and 65 others injured on November 9, 1932.  The bloody incident occurred when left-wing demonstrators, led by the leader of the local Social Democratic Party, Léon Nicole, took to the streets to protest against a rally of supporters of the far-right politician, Georges Oltramare.  Concerned about a wave of public unrest, the government of canton Geneva asked for support from the Swiss army, to maintain public order.  Historians say the subsequent tragic events were ...
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Swiss start-ups hope to slow climate change with cow burps

Fri, 05/10/2019 - 09:00
​​​​​​​ Could changing what cows eat help keep the planet from warming? Several Swiss companies have created feed additives that they claim reduce methane emissions, but the science hasn’t convinced everyone yet. Cattle farms represent the idyllic image of Swiss life: green meadows dotted with wildflowers and grazing cattle with bells around their necks, all set against dramatic Alpine scenery. But every year, millions of litres of methane emanate from these pastures. It’s a greenhouse gas whose 100-year impact on the atmosphere is about 28 times that of carbon dioxide, making it a significant contributor to climate change.    “If you took all the cows on Earth...they would be the third-largest [greenhouse gas] emitters in the world, behind China and the US,” says Michael Mathres, head of strategic projects for Mootral, an agritech company headquartered near Geneva. He says the agriculture and food industries have been “greatly under-addressed” when it comes to tackling climate ...
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Why hikers want the wild taken out of wilderness

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 14:39
A new effort to promote hiking in the Alps will strike a chord with northern Europeans – it illustrates how they can enjoy the outdoors without having to give up any creature comforts. The campaign, titled “Nature wants you back”, is the brainchild of the national tourist board, Switzerland Tourism, designed to win over Europeans, specifically Germans, French, Dutch and British, who bring the greatest potential for boosting tourism numbers. They are low-hanging fruit due to their relative proximity to Switzerland, cultural similarities, and track record of spending a few days, rather than just a few hours, in the country.  For Switzerland Tourism’s campaign to be a success – and we’ll only know once summer is over – the agency had to understand, in today’s digital, performance-driven societies, how much value these groups place on being in the great outdoors. Thanks to the results of a survey carried out in the targeted countries, the answer is ‘a lot’, but there are interesting ...
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Switzerland's political middle is gaining ground

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 11:00
Switzerland's Liberal Green Party is on a roll. Its rising popularity shows potential for centrist parties in tipping the political balance between the left and the right. The Worry Barometer survey shows which institutions the Swiss have confidence in, and which they don’t. In a 2018 poll, Swiss citizens said they strongly trusted the Federal Court, the police force, the army and the National Bank. Confidence in the government and parliament (the Senate and the House of Representatives) was limited in comparison, although the level of trust remained stable. Political parties have suffered the biggest losses. At the beginning of the current four-year parliamentary term, more than half of the Swiss voters still had trust in them; this figure has now plummeted to less than 40%. For further details see chart below. The reason why political parties fare so badly is because they refuse to cooperate! This has been a long-standing issue between the Social Democrats and the Swiss ...
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From Zurich to the skies: the daily work of the world's airports

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 11:00
Experience the sights and sounds of the tightly-planned operations that move passengers at Zurich Airport and other hubs around the world. It’s a bright and sunny morning in Zurich. The air is filled with the grinding and whirring of machinery and the roar of planes cutting through the sky. Between landings and take-offs, the ground crew are in action, preparing for a Swiss International Air Lines arrival. A so-called ‘Foreign Object Debris’ (FOD) check is carried out by the onsite ramp team. As the plane comes to a halt on the apron – the aircraft parking area - chocks are placed in front of the aircraft wheels and power is connected from the main building. The team, all wearing safety clothing, waits until the engines are switched off and the aircraft is then secured and marked with cones. Only when the supervisor has authorised all the relevant arrival checks can the passengers leave the plane – luggage of first-class passengers, is placed near the cargo doors so that it ...
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Do tightened gun laws lead to greater security?

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 15:00
The Swiss government has a clear message for voters: Approve the new gun law reform and citizens will be protected from the misuse of dangerous weapons. The electorate will decide on May 19 whether to adopt changes made to European Union firearms regulations in the wake of terror attacks in some member states.  The proposed legislation would ban high-capacity semi-automatic weapons (with certain exceptions), improve tracking of weapons, and provide for improved information exchange between Schengen countries, plus other measures to fight the trade in illicit firearms. (Switzerland, while not a member of the EU, is part of the Schengen agreement governing the free movement of people across a large portion of Europe). The government says that these changes close loopholes in the current law and adopting them is a matter of protecting the public.  Those who oppose the gun law changes have dismissed the government’s security argument and insist that tightening the existing ...
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How the Swiss show their ‘great love of shooting’

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 11:00
To say that the Swiss are a nation of sharpshooters would be an exaggeration. But sport shooting is popular, both in rural and urban regions. visited two shooting clubs in Geneva as the nation gets ready to vote on legislation that will regulate guns more strictly. Arriving at the modern building that houses Switzerland’s largest underground shooting range, we have to look around to find the entrance. We can see signs advertising a fitness centre and a bicycle shop, before we find a modest name-plate saying ‘Swiss Gun Center’ on one of the doors. Swiss voters have the final say on a reform of Swiss gun laws, notably restricting the use of semi-automatic firearms, in a nationwide referendum on May 19.  A broad alliance of gun clubs, hunters, gunsmiths and arms collectors, supported by the rightwing Swiss People's Party collected enough signatures to challenge a parliamentary decision to bring Swiss law in line with European Union regulations. We are hardly inside ...
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Pressure builds on mining industry over supply chains

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 08:41
Extracting commodities from the ground is a necessarily dirty business, but an outcry over the use of child labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo has subjected the industry to ever more scrutiny of how metals from cobalt to copper are produced. It is a challenge for a metals and mining sector where issues of corruption, environmental damage and wider social impact have rarely taken centre stage in negotiations between producers and buyers. Concerns over mining practices in Congo have simmered since 2015 and largely focused on informal, or artisanal, small scale mining (ASM) where cobalt — a key component in the batteries used in smartphones and electric vehicles — is mined by hand, in often dangerous conditions and sometimes by children. Last month’s announcement from the London Metal Exchange that by 2022 only metals compliant with OECD guidelines on responsible supply chains will be allowed to trade on the 142-year old venue is a sign of how the Congo controversy has ...
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An uncertain future for Swiss soldiers guarding the Pope

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 14:02
Every May, a new batch of young Swiss Roman Catholic soldiers swears allegiance to the Pope. But in recent years their numbers have been dwindling. What does the future hold for the Swiss Guards?  For over half a millennium (they were founded in 1506), the special unit has acted as personal protectors of God’s representative on earth.  This week, 23 more young soldiers were sworn in on May 6, a symbolic date that commemorates the 1527 sack of Rome.   But much has changed over the past 500 years, both in Switzerland and the Vatican. Here’s what it takes to become a guard, and why recruiting them has become difficult.  1. What do the Swiss guards actually do?  The soldiers are mostly known for their ceremonial role during official receptions and visits, where they can be seen decked out in impressively coloured uniforms, carrying swords and halberds, and sporting modern 3D-printed helmets.  However, over the past century, the guards have also increasingly taken on more and ...
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Corporate tax: slowing down the race to the bottom

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 10:12
Swiss voters go to the polls on May 19 to vote on a complex revision of corporate taxation. How does this fit into international efforts to crack down on tax avoidance? They say that the only certainties in life are death and taxes, but big multinational companies are pretty good at minimising the latter. National exchequers around the world are losing out on some $100-240 billion (CHF102-245 billion) in revenues each year, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); other estimates put the figure even higher. The Financial Times reported last year that multinationals now pay less tax than before the 2008 financial crisis.  The May 19 vote to reform corporate tax  in Switzerland is an example of what countries are doing to try to change companies’ practices amid a complex international landscape. Harmonising practices Much of the impetus for reform comes from the OECD. In 2013, the Paris-based group began the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting ...
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These are the rules of Swiss cow fighting

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 14:47
The fiery Hérens cow breed is a symbol for the Swiss canton of Valais, where bovine fights have become a traditional spring attraction. (SRF, The Hérens cow, found in the Swiss canton of Valais and in Italy's Aosta valley, is known for its ability to move on difficult terrain, its speed, and its combative temperament. The Hérens' natural fighting instinct has led to the organisation of official ring cow fights that attract numerous breeders and spectators. Divided into age and weight categories, the cows are freed into a ring where they choose their opponent. The rules are simple: the ones who run away or lose three consecutive fights are out of the competition.  The animals’ welfare is a priority as they are overseen by five referees, veterinarians, and the animal owners.  The highlight of the Valais ring cow fight season is the national championship, held each May in the town of Aproz. There, the winner of the first four categories is crowned "Queen of Queens". ...
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Amid shortages, can Switzerland stay Europe’s ‘water tower’?

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 12:26
A village in western Switzerland has banned the construction of new houses because there is not enough drinking water to go around. A water supply expert calls this an “intelligent” decision that other communities should follow. With its 1,500 lakes, 890 square kilometres of glaciers and countless rivers and streams, Switzerland should have no water supply problems. But in some places, inhabitants and farmers are regularly confronted with water shortages. This phenomenon will increase as a result of climate change and the predicted reduction in summer rainfall, researchers say. A lack of drinking water has forced the small municipality of Enges in canton Neuchâtel, with its 270 inhabitants, to take precautions. In mid-April, the authorities decided to block a housing project for 140 people and to ban the construction of new houses for at least two years. Enges is a few kilometres away from Lake Neuchâtel, Switzerland’s largest inland lake, as well as Lake Biel. But the ...
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Swiss project gets water flowing to massive refugee camp

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 11:00
In a refugee camp, one of the first challenges is getting enough water – at least 20 litres a day per person for drinking, cooking, washing and cleaning. A methodology developed in Switzerland has quadrupled a Ugandan camp’s water supply. How does it work, and can it be applied elsewhere?  “It’s not magic,” laughs Ellen Milnes, a hydro-geologist who works part-time for Switzerland’s University of Neuchâtel and part-time for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR. The methodology, called “Rapid Groundwater Potential Mapping”, involves using existing sources and information freely available online to overlay maps and chart the best places to drill for water. The map allows hydro-geologists to zoom in to those areas and conduct further tests before drilling. After only a year, the results at northern Uganda’s Bidi Bidi refugee camp have been spectacular. “It’s made a big, big difference,” says David Njoroge, the UN Water, Health and Sanitation officer in the camp. “You can ...
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A 2000-year-old guest from Pakistan comes to Switzerland

Sun, 05/05/2019 - 11:00
Convincing Pakistan to lend an ancient Gandhara Buddha statue to a Swiss museum was the easy part. Transporting the 1.5-ton sculpture from Peshawar to Zurich posed the real challenge. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes to ensure that you don’t miss the next one.
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May Day, prisoners and food waste

Sat, 05/04/2019 - 17:00
Almost every article published by contains a percentage, an age, an amount of money or some other figure. Here’s a round-up of some of the most interesting statistics to appear in the past week’s stories. 3,203 The number of shipments of illegally imported medicines seized in 2018 by Swiss customs authorities  – three times more than the previous year. Erectile stimulants remained at the top of the list, followed by sleeping, diet and hair growth pills. 16,000 Police said 16,000 people turned out for May Day events in Zurich, which were marred by extremists lighting flares and damaging buildings and vehicles.  Big rallies and marches also took place in other major cities, with calls for higher salaries and increased efforts to achieve equal pay for men and women. 2 The number of proposals launched in Geneva aimed at removing embattled local minister Pierre Maudet from power. Maudet is under investigation for the alleged accepting of benefits.   7,000 The ...
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