The Swiss Dichotomy

Switzerland is something of a dichotomy for me. I’ve now lived in the country for more than a decade, but still struggle with coming to terms with some of its inherent contradictions. In some ways it’s a very progressive culture, with a well-functioning direct democracy, a very high quality of life and is a relatively safe place to live. Oh and the flag is obviously a big plus (!) Yet behind the snowcapped mountains, stunning lakes and marvellous chocolate there is a slightly dark underbelly of high levels of domestic abuse and outdated attitudes when it comes to gender parity in the workplace and elsewhere. I challenge the feminists amongst us to watch this video about women being denied the vote in 1959 without shouting at the screen.

The country’s contradictions extend into my personal spheres of interest around the role of business in society. A vote initiated by the people was held last weekend to decide whether Swiss domiciled companies should be held responsible for any Human Rights abuses in their extended supply chains. This would have taken Switzerland way beyond other countries into a leadership position on Human Rights but alas, it was marginally defeated thanks to huge resistance from the business lobby and indeed, the Swiss government. Over 350 commodity trading companies domiciled in the country must have raised a collective sigh of relief.

One other progressive vote which did go through was on raising the minimum wage to 23 CHF (about $25) per hour taking Geneva to being the highest rate in Europe. Of course, there have been howls of disapproval coming from local businesses, bars and restaurants however something does have to be done about the rampant inequality I see every day in the city. Post the first lockdown, queues outside of luxury shops like Louis Vuitton and Patek Philippe were only surpassed by the length of queues for the food bank on other side of the city. Go figure. My sense is Geneva is just playing out in miniature the rampant and growing inequality we see on a national and international level. It’s neither socially nor morally sustainable.

However, even I was astonished to read of a new law to make bribes no longer tax-deductible in Switzerland. Can you believe it? Apparently, this was an effort to “harmonise tax law with criminal law”, the latter eventually having made bribery illegal only as recently as 2015. So, if my understanding is correct, giving a backhander to a corrupt politician or business person domestically or in a foreign country was not only tolerated — it was actively incentivised fiscally. I had somewhat naïvely assumed that such blatantly corrupt and grubby business practices would have been stamped out decades ago, at least in the eyes of the law in most civilized countries, if not practically.

I firmly believe that multinational corporations, given their size and scale have to operate to the highest standards of behaviour — globally. Not simply to adjust policies to the lowest common denominator wherever they are working in order to shave a few quid off their costs. That’s a race to the bottom. Surely we can do better than that and aspire to ethical behaviour in business, even if it takes a while for governments to catch up and ensure “doing the right thing” is enshrined in law.

This article is an extract from the December edition of The Bullog*, my monthly blog. To read the full blog or to sign up to receive The Bullog directly each month visit………

* The Bullog = Bulloch + Blog

Make sense? Not bulldog, nor is it bulls**t although I’ll let you be the judge of that! It’s a brief synopsis on recent articles, events and opinions from my world and the things that have caught my attention over the past few weeks.




Gib Bulloch is an award-winning social intrapreneur who consults, writes and speaks on topics relating to the role of business in society.

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Gib Bulloch

Gib Bulloch

Gib Bulloch is an award-winning social intrapreneur who consults, writes and speaks on topics relating to the role of business in society.

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