On 15. September 2017, the Federal Council issued its official message on the Swiss Responsible Business Initiative.
Note to the editor: The Swiss Federal Council published its official dispatch on the Responsible Business Initiative on September 15th. Even though it is negative, it represents only the first stage of the following process of initiatives: After the signatures for a popular initiative are collected, the government makes a recommendation to the parliament and the citizens. This recommendation will be discussed by the parliament, which decides independently on its position on the initiative. The final stage will be the popular vote – in case of the Responsible Business Initiative this will take place at the earliest in November 2018.
THE GOVERNMENT RECOGNIZES THE NEED FOR ACTION
On 15. September 2017, the Federal Council issued its official message on the Swiss Responsible Business Initiative. The message recognizes that human rights violations committed by Swiss multinationals are of serious concern. Nevertheless, it maintains its approach of relying solely on voluntary measures while hoping that unscrupulous companies will chose to comply with human rights standards in the future. Numerous cases prove that voluntary action fails to challenge the top management circles of companies. Many countries have hence adopted binding rules, on child labor for instance.
THE INITIATIVE’S CLAIM
The initiative calls all Swiss-based multinational companies to undertake human rights and environmental due diligence in all their business activities abroad. To ensure that multinationals fulfil this obligation, consequences are foreseen: companies will be held accountable for violations of fundamental rights and environmental damages the have committed.
ACCURATE READING OF THE INITIATIVE
The initiators welcome the fact that the Federal Council, unlike Swiss corporate lobby groups Economiesuisse and Swissholdings, correctly interpreted the text of the initiative. For instance, the Federal Council asserts that the civil liability mechanism put forward by the initiative will apply only to human rights violations committed directly by a multinational. Moreover, it rightly points out that SMEs will not be affected by the initiative.
COMMENTARY BY THE INITIATIVE’S COMMITTEE
Dick Marty, co-chair of the initiative’s committee, has reacted to the Federal Council’s stubbornness: “If we want multinationals to operate decently, abuses must be followed by consequences. Companies must be accountable for human rights violations and environmental damage. This is also in the interest of responsible companies as well as for Switzerland’s reputation abroad.”