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Publication: Valueworks - Effects of Financialization along the Copper Value Chain (Working Paper)

SNIS Valueworks

Based on two years of research in Zambia, Switzerland and China, the interdisciplinary research project Valueworks examined the supply and value chain of one metal, copper, across three countries, Zambia, Switzerland and China.


Researchers, NGOs, civil society activists and one international organization aimed to map the actors involved and the “capture of value” along the copper chain linking Zambia to China. Our key interest was the role of Switzerland, host to the world’s most important commodity trading hub, and its impact on lifeworlds along the copper value chain. While the social and environmental concerns are already well-researched for mining itself, Valueworks has shown that the service infrastructures of global extraction decisively influence the scope for sustainable development in mineral extractive countries. Mining is embedded into a wider landscape of services – transport, trade, financing, insurance etc. – in which decisions are taken that crucially affect the capacity of countries like Zambia to formulate and enforce policies. This global landscape is shaped by actors who span different countries and are able to move between different regulatory spaces. For all of them, financialization has become a global condition with which they have to deal; at the same time, their actions reproduce and reinforce dynamics of financialization. While the guises and consequences of financialization are manifold, one common thread is the increasing power of capital owners. This power translates into pressure for companies to perform in relation to indices; it changes the relation between ‘physical’ and ‘speculative’ trade; it shifts the power balance between workers and managers in collective bargaining agreements; and it further erodes the capacity of both Southern and Northern countries to effectively regulate their markets. While Swiss traders are responsible for a large part of the volumes being traded within the production network for copper, employment by the sector is relatively small. Nevertheless, Swiss traders’ structural role in the global economy is huge, due to their influence on transnational trading networks, the pricing of copper and their role in facilitating financialization in globalized trade. This Working Paper offers policy recommendations for Swiss policy makers at regulatory, political, scientific and institutional levels.


Dr. Rita Kesselring is a senior lecturer at the Chair of Social Anthropology, University of Basel, Switzerland and led the project Valueworks. She works on new mining towns in Zambia’s Northwestern Province, making visible the interconnection between global extractivism, commodity trade and urban life at the site of resource extraction. Her monograph Bodies of Truth: Law, Memory and Emancipation (Stanford UP 2017) is an ethnography on apartheid victims in South Africa and a globally entangled system of human rights abuses. Email:

Dr. Stefan Leins is a senior lecturer at the Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies of the University of Zurich, Switzerland and interested in the culture of economies, including commodity trading, supply chains, financial analysis, and socially responsible investing. His book Stories of Capitalism: Inside the Role of Financial Analysts has been published by the University of Chicago Press in 2018. Since January 2017, Stefan Leins has co-coordinated and conducted research in the project Valueworks. Email: 

Dr. Yvan Schulz obtained his PhD from the Anthropology Institute, University of Neuchatel, in February 2018. He currently works as a postdoctoral researcher at the China Centre, University of Oxford. His main research analyses China’s state project of ecological modernization from the angle of e-waste reuse and recycling. For Valueworks, Yvan Schulz explored the growing influence of Chinese actors in the global market for copper. Email: 

Kesselring, Rita, Stefan Leins and Yvan Schulz. 2019. “Valueworks: Effects of Financialization along the Copper Value Chain (Working Paper)”. Geneva: Swiss Network for International Studies.