Berne Declaration successfully monitors SERV projects since 1990

The Berne Declaration first started to monitor the Export Credit Risk Agency’s (then called ERG) lending practices in the early 1990. Then, the agency had no environmental and social standards and Berne Declaration heavily critiqued the insuring of Swiss exports to controversial large dam projects, like Manantali (Mali), Tarbela (Pakistan), Three Gorges Dam (China), Atatürk and Karakaya (Turkey), Chixoy (Guatemala), El Cajon (Honduras), El Guavio (Kolumbien), Itaipú (Brasilien). Berne Declaration also revealed that the Swiss ERG also granted export insurance for dodgy weapon trades and to highly corrupt countries (Indonesia).
The Swiss ERG landed in public disrepute end of the 1980, when it became public that developing country’s governments owed SFR 1.3 million export credit debts to Switzerland. At that time there were no transparency rules and thus there was no public information on which Swiss companies received export insurance, on what was exported and to which project or company in developing countries. Yet, it was obvious that the majority of the debts resulted from failed projects or dubious non-productive investments and a smaller part from currency fluctuations (mostly in West-Africa). Pressed by the Berne Declaration and a large coalition of Swiss NGOs, the Swiss Government made international headlines in 1992 as the first country to forgive the larger part of these trade debts to poor countries and implementing a successful debt-for-development swap program.

Changes achieved in SERV’s policies

The Swiss Export Risk Insurance has since come a long way, pressed by the Berne Declaration which demanded to exclude exports and companies that do not contribute to a sustainable and development in developing countries. SERV now pursues a better information policy and regularly invites NGOs for consultations and ad hoc meetings on important projects. SERV publishes details of projects involving contract values in excess of CHF 10 million, although the Berne Declaration would also like to see smaller projects and less sensitive projects be published. In line with the „Revised Council Recommendation on Common Approaches on the Environment and Officially Supported Export Credits“, SERV also publishes environmental information on Category A projects at least 30 days before deciding on the definitive issuance of an insurance policy. Relevant information is available under:

Urged by Berne Declaration and in line with SERV’s new law, SERV now states on its homepage that it respects Swiss foreign-policy goals with regard to development, human rights, democracy, the peaceful coexistence of nations and also environmental aspects and to take these aspects into account when assessing applications for an insurance commitment in principle. SERV is also required to balance the need to promote the domestic economy against the pursuit of foreign-policy and environmental-policy goals. This requires the critical weighing of interests, an endeavor which SERV takes exceptionally seriously.

Despite these good intentions, the Berne Declaration’ monitoring disclosed that in the past, SERV weighed economic interests higher than ecological and social aspects. Berne Declaration’s campaigns against Swiss guaranteed exports to the disastrous Bujagali dam project in Uganda (2002-2004), the Ilisu and the Yusufeli dam projects in Turkey (2004 – 2009 (link…)  and to an aluminium smelter in Iceland (2010-2011) (link…) showed, that pressed by corporate interests, SERV downplayed social and environmental safeguards and thereby violated its own law. Berne Declaration’s campaigns successfully prompted SERV to withdraw the export credit guarantees. In 2011, the Berne Declaration published a study by a Swiss professor of law which showed that SERV’s law provides that SERV should consider the human rights situation of the importing country. In 2012, SERV finally agreed to do human rights assessments in the future, when granting export guarantees to politically sensitive countries or regions.

For all current requested and approved SERV applications/policies, se: