Avenir Suisse’s new discussion paper examines the close inter-relationships between multinational companies and the Swiss economy. It highlights the profound structural changes that have occurred in Swiss finance and industry over the past 40 years, and the role of multinationals as motors for growth. Although there are statistical and methodological barriers to registering the precise economic contribution of such companies, all important empirical works accord multinationals significant weight in Switzerland’s economic structure. That suggests the country cannot be defined as dominated by small and medium sized business, no matter how popular that image may be.

The discussion paper reveals the following key findings:

  • Switzerland has benefited greatly from globalisation, with significant ripple effects for incomes and employment. Were it not for multinationals‘ research and development activities, Switzerland’s top position in international rankings for innovation could barely be explained, let alone maintained.
  • Multinationals are the key drivers of globalisation, a process that has thrown up many economic policy issues for Switzerland and which have complicated economic discussion and policy making: Among the concerns raised are corporate social responsibility, Switzerland’s greater international exposure and the potentially negative role of multinationals in society.
  • Relocating corporate headquarters is easier than generally thought. Even if there are no immediate risks of an exodus of multinationals from Switzerland, in an era of globalisation, headquarters locations are under constant review. Were there sufficient reasons for departure, it might be impossible to halt the trend. Switzerland must decide if it wants to remain a magnet for the world’s top multinationals. Some recent economic policy decisions and plans on the political horizon raise some doubts about this.
  • Defending Switzerland’s position in international business and maintaining prosperity requires globally competitive companies – above all dynamic, export orientated groups and multinationals that select Switzerland for their headquarters functions. But top executives from such multinationals can and must themselves strive to prevent the gulf between politics and society, on the one hand, and an internationally orientated business sector, on the other, growing ever wider.