Extinction Rebellion environmental activists block a corridor during a protest outside commodity trading company Gunvor's office in Geneva, Switzerland, February 17 2020. Picture: REUTERS
Extinction Rebellion environmental activists block a corridor during a protest outside commodity trading company Gunvor's office in Geneva, Switzerland, February 17 2020. Picture: REUTERS

Geneva — Scores of climate change protesters from a Swiss branch of the Extinction Rebellion campaign group staged protests against commodity houses in Geneva, occupying the office of Vitol Group, the biggest independent oil trader.

About 50 protesters breached the offices of Vitol near the Hotel des Bergues on Monday, where they used tape to create human outlines on the ground resembling a murder scene.

The actions show that disruptive climate activists are now looking beyond crude producers and to the role of commodity traders in buying, transporting, storing and selling fossil fuels. Vitol handles more than 7-million barrels of oil a day and Switzerland is a hub for the industry, with more than 500 firms based there.

Dominic Bourg, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion Lausanne, said the group targeted Vitol because of its clout as one of the world’s biggest hydrocarbon traders and its ongoing legal problems in developing countries.

“If we can imagine a company is a devil, we’ve got a lovely one here,” Bourg said. In a statement, a Vitol spokesperson said the company “recognises the need for the energy mix to evolve over time and is already investing in renewable and alternative energy projects. We engage with a range of stakeholders on these matters, and will continue to engage in constructive and informed dialogue.”

Protesters also visited the exterior of energy trader Gunvor Group’s offices on Rue du Rhone, Geneva’s priciest shopping street, where they constructed another crime scene with taped human outlines and fake blood.

“Switzerland is one of the biggest commodity trading hubs and most people don’t know this because they are operating in darkness,” said Sara, an Extinction Rebellion protester, who declined to give her last name.

A Gunvor spokesperson declined to comment. Commodity trading is a key driver of Switzerland’s economy, accounting for about 10,000 jobs and about 4% of GDP. That’s more than tourism in the Alpine nation.

The protesters also went to the Geneva offices of Cargill, one of the world’s biggest agricultural commodity traders. A company spokesperson said Cargill remains “committed to conducting business in a responsible manner and to supporting the communities where we live and work”.

Bloomberg

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