Stages of the Responsible Business Initiative in Parliament

  1. 10 October 2016 – Submission of the Responsible Business Initiative with 120’000 valid signatures.
  2. 15 September 2017 – Federal Council Dispatch: recommendation of rejection without counter-proposal […] (only available in French or German)
  3. 14 November 2017 – Initial discussion of the initiative in the Legal Affairs Committee of the Council of States. Committee decides with 8:1 parliamentary initiative for a counter-proposal – but this is rejected by the sister committee of the National Council (10/12/2017).
  4. 23/2, 20/4, 4/5/2018 – The National Council’s Legal Affairs Committee prepares an indirect counter-proposal to the Responsible Business Initiative as part of the revision of the law on companies limited by shares. The authors of the initiative are prepared to compromise and, despite numerous trade-offs, give their assurance that they will withdraw.
  5. 14 June 2018 – The National Council approves the counter-proposal by 121:73:2 votes.
  6. 21/8, 17/10, 5/11, 29/11, 12/12/2018; 18/1, 11/2/2019 – The Legal Affairs Committee of the Council of States conducts hearings once again and a sub-commission thoroughly revises the counter-proposal.
  7. 12 March 2019 – The Council of States decides by 22:20 non-approval of introduction of the counter-proposal.
  8. According to media reports, the federation of swiss based multinational enterprises “SwissHoldings” lobbied the Department of Justice as early as March 2019 for a weak fig-leaf-like counter-proposal in order to prevent further regulations. (German only)
  9. 13 June 2019 – The National Council maintains its counter-proposal with 109:69:3.
  10. Summer 2019 – FDP (Liberal Democratic Party) Federal Councillor Keller-Sutter launches her own fig-leaf-like counter-proposal to torpedo the parliamentary process and to fight the Responsible Business Initiative. The counter-proposal merely involves reporting.
  11. 26/9/2019 – FDP (Liberal Democratic Party) Councillor of States Ruedi Noser requested to postpone the debate on the counter-proposal in order to include Keller-Sutter’s fig-leaf-like proposal in the deliberations and so as not to have to take a stand before the national elections in October 2019. The Council of States follows him with 24:20:1 despite a wave of protest (50’000 protest signatures collected within 48h) against this manoeuvre.
  12. 21 November 2019 – The Council of States’ Legal Affairs Committee maintains the original concept of the counter-proposal. However, a strong minority accepts the Federal Councillor’s fig-leaf-like proposal and attempts to sell a mere “reporting obligation” as a counter-proposal. The authors of the initiative take a clear stand and state that a withdrawal will only be guaranteed in the case of the National Council’s counter-proposal.
  13. 18 December 2019 – The Council of States joins the minority and votes for the fig-leaf-like proposal.
  14. 4 March 2020 – The National Council maintains its counter-proposal.
  15. 9 March 2020 – The Council of States insists on the fig-leaf-like counter-proposal.
  16. 11 March 2020 – For the fourth time, the National Council votes in favour of its counter-proposal.
  17. 15 March 2020 – Due to the Corona crisis the parliament aborts its session.
  18. 2 June 2020 – summer session: The Council of States re-affirms its support for the fig-leaf-like counter-proposal, as introduced by the Federal Council. A conciliation committee, made up of members of the National Council and of the Council of States, now has to submit a counter-proposal to parliament.
  19. 4 June 2020 – The conciliation committee submits the fig leaf proposal to the Councils for a final approval
  20. 19 June 2020 – The National Council and the Council of States follow the conciliation committee’s recommendation and adopt the fig-leaf-like counter-proposal.
  21. 29 November 2020 – The Responsible Business Initiative is rejected at the ballot box despite gaining 50.7% of the popular vote because the majority of the cantons voted against it. A majority of both the popular and the cantonal vote is needed for an initiative to pass. As a consequence of the initiative’s rejection, the counter-proposal automatically comes into force.


Further information about the Swiss Parliament

What is a popular initiative in Switzerland?

A popular initiative allows Swiss citizens to request an amendment to the Federal Constitution (of one article or its entirety). Initiatives to introduce or amend specific federal laws are not permitted. The Swiss Responsible Business Initiative demands the introduction of the article 101a « Responsibility of business » in the Constitution. For a popular initiative to succeed, those launching the initiative need to collect 100,000 signatures from the Swiss electorate within 18 months. The initiative is then submitted to the Federal Council (Executive) and the Parliament who can either accept or reject the amendment or draft a counter-proposal. As long as the initiative is not retracted, it will be put to a popular vote. The majority of the electorate and of the cantons (a ‘double majority’) is necessary for the initiative to be adopted.