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Nestlé ready to share evidence of deforestation in palm oil supply chain

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 08:00
Under pressure to prove its standards are more rigorous than the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Nestlé is gambling on transparency to convince sceptics. It plans to make information obtained from a satellite monitoring service, including evidence of deforestation, available on the company’s website next year.  The company plans to use imagery from the Starling satellite monitoring service to observe its palm oil suppliers and address deforestation linked to their mills. From March 1, 2019 onwards the company intends to make its suppliers’ adherence (or non-adherence) to Nestlé’s no-deforestation policy available to the public on a Transparency Dashboard published on its website. The format of the information has yet to be decided and will be determined by the analytics furnished by Starling.  “Our motto is to have a dialogue first with the aim to convince our suppliers to improve. At the same time, if they say no we will blacklist them,” Benjamin Ware, Nestlé’s ...
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Worries over global warming boost hopes of Green Party

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 17:00
Parties to the left of the centre could win some ground in in the 2019 parliamentary elections at the expense of the right, pollsters say. The main public concerns are social security and environmental issues. Except for expatriate Swiss citizens: their focus are relations with the European Union. Of the eight main political parties in the Swiss parliament, the Swiss People’s Party would still come out top with 27.4% if elections to the House of Representatives were held now – more than 12 months ahead of the scheduled date. But the rightwing party would lose about 2% of the vote compared with the 2015 elections. The other main loser would be the centrist Christian Democrats, which look set to continue their decline, according to Michael Hermann of the Sotomo research institute. It carried out the survey on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), swissinfo.ch’s parent company. The two main winners would be the leftwing Green Party and the centre-right Radical-Liberal ...
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How does Switzerland respond to a disaster abroad?

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 17:00
Following the earthquake in Indonesia on Friday, September 28, a tsunami has left more than 1,000 people dead, several hundred injured and caused enormous damage. The Indonesian government has called for urgent international aid, and Switzerland has responded with its own offer of assistance. On Monday, October 1, Switzerland said it would send a team of seven emergency aid experts to help. The group includes doctors, alongside water, construction and logistics experts. The Swiss Humanitarian Aid (SHA) unit responds to such disasters abroad often by sending highly-trained professionals into the crisis area at short notice to help with specific emergency needs.  In 2012, the members of the SHA completed more than 500 assignments abroad and spent more than 50,000 days working for the unit. Although who is called in to help varies depending on the situation, that amount tallies up to the equivalent of 135 full-time positions. Between 2010 and 2012, the Rapid Border Intervention ...
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Feminists aren't career-hungry monsters

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 17:00
"True Talk" puts people in front of the camera who are fighting prejudice or discrimination. They answer questions that nobody would normally dare to ask directly.  Anne-Sophie Keller is 27 years old and an ardent feminist. She says, because she has often been at a disadvantage in her life due to her gender. In "True Talk", she explains why feminism is far from being an outdated practice, and which prejudices she faces on a daily basis. "I didn't have this one traumatic key moment," Anne-Sophie says. "It was rather small things that made me a feminist. That includes breast grabbing in nightclubs, unwanted office nicknames or arrogant bosses who want to explain the world to you, and - let's be honest - what woman doesn't recognise situations like that?" Anne-Sophie thinks there is still a lot to be done. "Above all, men - also in Switzerland - must finally realise that we women are still de facto second-class citizens." But she also sees that women have a duty: "We often have too ...
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Foundations for league of ‘Democracy Cities’ laid in Rome

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 12:11
What are the greatest engines of democratization? Cities. At the seventh Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy in Rome, some 800 participants from almost 100 countries launched an offensive: they drafted a Magna Charta for a global alliance of cities to allow citizens to also participate in government. "Cities are the most innovative democratic actors because it is there that citizens can exert the greatest influence on governments," said Joe Mathews, co-President of the Forum.  The Magna Charta for an International League of Democracy Cities is "a step back into the future," Mathews said. "This is because democracy is strengthened at the local level, as it was in the city of Athens 2,500 years ago. What does it say? The Charta should include best practices for effective local, direct and participatory democracy of citizens. Which cities are the drivers? Rome (Italy), Seoul (South Korea) and Taichung (Taiwan) were in charge of the first draft, making them in a sense ideal ...
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Forbidden love at the Zurich Film Festival

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 11:30
When "Wolkenbruch" premiered at this year's Zurich Film Festival, it provided a window onto a world some people never knew existed: that of Orthodox Jews living in the heart of Switzerland's most bustling city.  The movie centres around Motti Wolkenbruch, a young Jewish man living in Zurich who breaks the rules, but he's not the only star of this story: significantly contributing to the laughs and plot line are the other members of his community who walk the streets of the Wiedikon district in Zurich in their kippahs and payot (curly sideburns). According to the Federal Statistical Office, there are more than 4,000 Jewish people in the city of Zurich and more than 6,000 in the canton. The coming of age comedy is based on the Swiss bestseller, “Wolkenbruch's wondrous journey into the arms of a Schickse”, written in German and Yiddish by Jewish author Thomas Meyer, who also penned the screenplay. He's not religious but says he rediscovered his Jewish roots while researching his ...
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Down-to-earth Swiss president raises eyebrows

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 11:19
Images of the Swiss president sitting on the ground in New York City have sparked a conversation on social media. But for the Swiss, it’s just business as usual.  During last week’s General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, Swiss President Alain Berset decided to cool his well-maintained heels and take a curbside seat. The sight of an important man sitting on the ground grabbed the attention of the social media world – especially in Africa.  One blogger used the example to criticize the Ugandan president: As the image made the rounds, users kept adding to the story, saying that during the UN assembly, Berset was cooking his own meals in a small apartment shared with his staff. A spokesman later set the record straight, telling Swiss news portal watson.ch that Berset had stayed in a hotel, as usual. When not out and about inspiring memes, Berset – who holds the rotating presidency of the seven-member Swiss cabinet – serves as the home affairs minister. And he’s not ...
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Meet Switzerland’s top trade negotiator

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 11:00
What’s it like to be a top trade negotiator in the age of Donald Trump and Brexit? Does it help to be a discreet, Swiss, career diplomat? We went to meet Henri Gétaz, Switzerland’s “Mr. Europe” who became Secretary General of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) on September 1 this year.  Gétaz, 54, rises from his desk to greet us as we enter his large, flower-filled office in Geneva. He is besuited and polite, weighing his words carefully like the diplomat that he is. But he has a warm smile, and apparently a wry sense of humour. Asked, for example, how he would describe what he does, he recalls that “a former Swiss secretary of state called himself a diplocrat. That’s probably what we are – technocrats of diplomacy!”    This is the man who, at the Swiss embassy in Washington, helped negotiate a deal between UBS bank and the US tax authorities, then went on to be director of European Affairs at the Swiss foreign ministry. He stayed in that post for eight years, notably ...
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Switzerland: the land of the tobacco industry

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 17:42
Although Switzerland – home to the three biggest tobacco firms – has not yet ratified the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the city of Geneva is hosting an important meeting this week on the treaty. In his first speech to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council last February, Swiss Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis insisted on the importance of civil and political rights, highlighting economic freedom and the guarantee of private property for securing stability and peace. This approach has helped contribute to Switzerland's success throughout its modern history, even if it may have meant leaving aside other rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted 70 years ago, such as those concerning health. Swiss legislation and attitudes towards tobacco and smoking is a perfect example of this approach. The alpine nation signed the FCTC in 2004, but 14 years later it remains one of 13 other countries that have not ...
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Photos of workers were a labour of love

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 15:19
Swiss photographer Emil Acklin documented the social and political history of Zurich between 1930 and 1950. He trained his lens on people on the job, and the fruits of his labour are now on display in Zurich.  Armed with a Leica camera, teacher, communist and photographer Emil Acklin (1889-1976) captured the everyday life of people in Zurich’s Aussersihl neighbourhood. He photographed Zurich residents at work on weekdays as well as during their leisure time or at political events, such as the May 1 “International Workers’ Day” parade.  Acklin presents his photography as a reflection of the class struggle that prevailed at the time.  Stormy times  Industrialisation, education of the working class and economic hardship during the war years had a strong influence on Acklin. As a result, his early work became increasingly socialist in nature. In 1917, he joined a revolutionary group and actively participated in its numerous protests against war and militarism. During the November ...
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You have your Swiss degree – now what?

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 11:47
Slogging away at a Swiss university for several years can often seem the easy part: when it comes to finding a job, foreign graduates – especially those from outside the EU – need to get used to rejection letters. Fungai Mettler from Zimbabwe tells her experience and gives tips on attracting employers’ attention.  Many graduates have realised that recruiters often like that we are young, but many entry-level jobs have such high expectations that we cannot compete.  + Learn more about the Swiss education system This problem is exacerbated when you are both non-Swiss and non-EU, despite having studied in Switzerland. I am Zimbabwean and moved to Switzerland in 2014. I did a Masters, majoring in politics and governance at the University of Basel. I was excited to graduate, and my goal was to immediately join a company where I could make a difference and gain experience.  Fungai Mettler Fungai Mettler is Zimbabwean. She has lived in Switzerland since 2014.  She spends most of her ...
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How to farm unconventionally, with rare indigenous breeds

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 11:00
​​​​​​​ Woolly Mangalica pig, Rhaetian Grey cattle, honey apple and Chézard plum – these are names you rarely hear these days, unless you walk into the Ferme des sens, a farm which conserves rare species. The Ferme des sens is situated in the village of Châtel-St-Denis, in canton Fribourg, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Owner Stéphane was born in the 1970s. His farm is not only organic and run on the small-scale model, but almost all of his fruit, vegetables, poultry and livestock are on the list of Swiss endangered species. It’s 5am and the moonlight is still shining across the fields. Stéphane is working. He walks into the animal pen with his farm tools. His typical work day starts with the sound of the milking machine breaking the early morning silence. Appenzell goats The goats in the pen are Appenzell goats, one of the ancient indigenous Swiss breeds on the endangered list. Only a few breeders remain. From an economic point of view, it makes less sense to ...
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The natural catastrophe that changed Switzerland

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 17:00
Exactly 150 years ago, Switzerland’s lakes and rivers broke their banks, flooding many parts of the country. The catastrophe resulted in destruction and death, but it also brought the young federal state together and enabled it to advance.  It all began with heavy rain on September 27 and 28 and at the beginning of October. Autumn 1868 was one of the wettest – and most catastrophic – in Swiss history.  Lake Maggiore reached 199.98 metres, the highest ever measured and seven metres higher than its current average level, while the San Bernardino received 1,118 millimetres of rain in eight days, another record.  In the hardest-hit cantons – Ticino, Valais, Graubünden, Uri and St Gallen – the flooding caused 51 deaths. The damage came to around CHF40 million – almost CHF1 billion today. The flood changed not only the landscape but also politics and society, says Stefan Brönnimann, a professor at the Geography Institute of the University of Bern and co-author of a publication ...
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Outgoing minister warns of ‘vulnerable’ Switzerland

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 14:23
Last week, Doris Leuthard announced she would be leaving the Federal Council at the end of the year. The media reported that she had “struggled with tears”.  It’s important not to miss her very clear message: “Our country is strong, but it has become more vulnerable.” She was referring to international interdependence. The work of the federal councillors has changed a lot over the past 12 years. “We have many questions that we can no longer answer from a Swiss perspective,” said the longest-serving of the seven current cabinet ministers.  External forces have a very strong influence on Swiss politics, Leuthard noted. “It is a fallacy to believe that we can control everything ourselves.” Switzerland is exposed to a variety of external factors. Both the Federal Council and Parliament, she said, must increasingly familiarise themselves with more complex issues while constantly integrating these external influences on our country into finding solutions. In addition, politicians ...
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In Zurich, Syrians mobilise in bid to boost mental health

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 11:00
The men and women gathered in a spartan room are a moving reminder of the vitality and diversity of Syrian society when the country was blooming rather than exploding. The men sport casual to semi-formal clothes. Veiled women sit across women in jeans and tank tops. Political and religious views have been left at the door. The common denominator here is a shared drive to help refugees whose struggle to integrate into Switzerland is complicated by unaddressed psychological issues rooted in war trauma. They are part of Switzerland’s first batch of peer-to-peer Syrian counsellors being trained under the STRENGTHS Project. Among them is Osama Shelleh, a 37-year-old former electrical engineer, who has high hopes and a contagious sense of purpose.  “Syrians have a lot of problems with integration in Switzerland,” he told swissinfo.ch in September. “By attending this programme, I feel that I can do something for the Syrian people, help the Syrian people with integration and solving the ...
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The Brexit effect: Brussels tries to blunt the Swiss model

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 10:57
​​​​​​​ Switzerland: “not a model”. The text on a January presentation from the EU’s Brexit negotiators could not have been clearer. Do not seek inspiration from Switzerland for post-Brexit relations, the EU was telling the UK, we are not repeating that folly. The footnote was an unintended compliment to the affluent Alpine country with a population of 8.5 million. Switzerland has long refused to join the EU, the 500 million-strong trading bloc on its doorstep. Yet somehow through guile, patience and a touch of bloody-mindedness, it has built a web of more than 120 bilateral deals which give it many of the benefits of membership. However, with Brexit forcing the EU to rethink its relationship with neighbouring countries that are not part of the bloc, Switzerland has become a prime candidate for some unsentimental housekeeping. Negotiations on a new deal started four years ago, and the EU seems more determined than ever to impose its will on little Switzerland – not least as an ...
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Fintech firms challenged to disrupt old order

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 09:41
Swiss fintech start-ups have been urged to raise their ambitions and shake up the established titans of the financial industry. That’s the challenge set down by insurance heavyweight Swiss Re at a Zurich conference on Monday. “There are no attackers in Switzerland coming forward to disrupt the insurance industry,” Evangelos Avramakis, Head of Digital Ecosystems at the insurance giant, told the FINTECH+ summit. “Everyone is being too relaxed and nice to each other.”  The two-day FINTECH+ conference which ends on Tuesday brings together fintechs and traditional financial companies to better understand how to make use of each other’s strengths. “I see no change in the way insurance firms are interacting with their customers. I have not seen any revolutionary new products changing the market.” More than 200 fintech start-ups are now established in Switzerland. While some have made inroads offering efficiency-boosting services to larger companies, none have come close to achieving ...
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Parliamentarians call for Aquarius to fly the Swiss flag

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 17:01
A group of Swiss parliamentarians are calling for the Swiss flag to be hoisted on the rescue ship Aquarius. The 58 refugees aboard the ship disembarked on Malta over the weekend. But, without a flag, the ship must cease service in the Mediterranean. Chartered by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Méditerranée, the Aquarius rescues migrants in distress. It is the last remaining NGO rescue ship in the central Mediterranean. Since Italy closed its ports to humanitarian boats, NGOs have withdrawn from the area. On September 22, Panama announced it was removing its flag from the Aquarius, arguing that the ship disregarded international laws of the sea. In August, Gibraltar deleted the ship from its maritime registry. Without a flag, the Aquarius can no longer conduct rescue missions. Last week, three Swiss parliamentarians called for a humanitarian gesture by interpellation to give the Aquarius the Swiss flag. One of those is Kurt Fluri, a member of the House of Representatives ...
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Swiss TV marks 50 years of colour

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 11:12
It’s been 50 years since Swiss public television switched from black-and-white to colour. In the early days of colour TV, hosts felt obliged to describe the vivid innovation to viewers with older TV sets.  In an era where screen size, resolution, and download speeds dominate the viewing experience, it’s easy to forget that people used to make do with monochromatic moving pictures – small and firmly rooted to a box.  The United States introduced colour TV in 1950 and featured it permanently from 1953. Countries like Japan, Mexico, Canada, and the Philippines had been enjoying colour TV for years when Switzerland decided to up its palette on October 1, 1968 – the same year as Bermuda, Iraq and Denmark, and exactly one year after the Soviet Union. Early shows In fact, the Swiss got their first taste of colour TV during a test run of a quiz show called “Dopplet oder nüt” (Double or nothing), broadcast by Swiss public television, SRF, on August 29, 1968. A few days later, viewers ...
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With Rousseau on his 'Thrill Walk'

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 11:00
Whenever a new suspension bridge or summit viewing platform is planned in the Alps, objections are soon raised about commercialising the mountains and selling them out to the events industry. However, tourist experiences require complex technical infrastructure and the pioneers of alpine pursuits also sought thrills and spills. It doesn’t have to be a drive-in chapel for skiers on the piste, a penguin zoo on a 2,500-metre-high peak or the longest staircase in the world. Even far less outlandish projects provoke discontent. Rigi Plus, an organisation representing two dozen companies in the tourism sector, unveiled its master plan last summer. The 200-page document focused on the Rigi as a location for experience-based activities and its “sustainable positioning”. It aims to provide more appealing offers for visitors to the mountain that boasts panoramic views and a rich history as well as better economic prospects for operators. Its proposals include a new website, a booking ...
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