Global Business? Global Responsibility!
Swiss companies that threaten human rights and the environment through their economic activities abroad must take responsibility. This is the message with which a broad coalition launches the Responsible Business Initiative today in Bern. The initiative seeks to ensure that Swiss companies are compelled to integrate the protection of human rights and the environment in their business practices.
Catastrophic working conditions in textile factories in Asia or Eastern Europe, abusive child labour in cocoa production in West Africa, toxic emissions in Zambia: Swiss companies are also involved in such injustices through their global activities. Switzerland ranks 20th of the world economic powers. Yet according to a study by Maastricht University, which rated 1,800 cases of human rights abuses carried out by companies, Switzerland then occupies the inglorious 9th place. Although this discrepancy has led to a great deal of discussion in the last years, concrete measures nevertheless remain absent. The Swiss Federal Council and Parliament continue to focus exclusively on voluntary measures for corporations. In mid-March 2015 Parliament narrowly rejected a motion from the Commission for greater corporate responsibility. So although the problem is recognized, greater pressure from civil society is required to introduce mandatory requirements.
This is why a popular initiative is being launched today by a broad coalition of different organizations. The Responsible Business Initiative aims to require that all Swiss companies carry out human rights and environmental due diligence. This instrument is based on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights adopted in 2011. According to these principles, companies must first review all their business relationships and activities with a view to identifying potential risks to people and the environment. Then they must take effective measures to combat the potentially negative impacts identified. And as a third step, companies are required to report transparently on the violated rights that they have identified, as well as the related measures taken.
In order to ensure that all companies carry out their due diligence obligations, Swiss corporations should also be made liable for human rights abuses and environmental violations caused by companies controlled by them. However where a company can credibly demonstrate that it carried out adequate due diligence and that it took all necessary measures, that company can be exempted from liability. The initiative therefore has a preventative effect and gives companies a real incentive to do the right thing.
Cornelio Sommaruga, former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and current member of the Initiative Committee sees the initiative as an important step for the country as an economic location: “Switzerland has a great responsibility both as the country of headquarters for humanitarian organizations as well as the home of many multinational companies. In the interests of the reputation of our country, we have to make our companies responsible too.” Other home states of globally active corporations are also aiming for regulation of their companies. At the end of March, the National Assembly in France endorsed a draft bill that goes in the same direction as the Responsible Business Initiative. Antoinette Hunziker-Ebneter, the ex-president of the Swiss stock exchange and current CEO of Forma Futura Invest AG underlines: “With this initiative we can create a new basis upon which voluntary initiatives by the private sector and civil society to protect human rights and the environment can be interwoven with state regulatory action. Companies are provided with a binding tool to minimize their risks. This strengthens their value as well as their competitiveness.”
The 66 launching organizations are now collecting signatures for the Responsible Business Initiative.
Further information can be found in this factsheet (in English) and at www.initiative-multinationales.ch (in French, German and Italian only).
Notes to the Editor:
In the Swiss political system, a popular initiative leads to a binding referendum if the initiators manage to collect 100,000 signatures across 18 months. Assuming the requisite number of signatures is collected in time, a vote would not be expected for another 3 years.
Bern, 19 January 2015
Press Release from the Swiss Coalition of Corporate Justice (SCCJ)
Popular Initiative for Responsible Business
The Swiss Coalition of Corporate Justice (SCCJ) is planning to launch a popular initiative, the aim of which will be to require Swiss companies to respect human rights and environmental standards abroad as well as at home. The widely supported association comprises some 50 charities, women’s rights, human rights, environmental and church organizations, as well as trade unions and shareholders’ associations.
In 2011, the SCCJ started a campaign with a petition demanding that Swiss companies respect human rights and environmental standards – also abroad. Just seven months later, the petition was submitted with 135,000 signatures. And it got the ball rolling: Parliament requested the government to put together a national action plan on business and human rights (the “Ruggie Strategy”), a comparative law report on due diligence with respect to human rights and the environment, and a yet-to-be-delivered report on access to justice for the victims of human rights violations caused by companies. Although the government has recognized the problems in the arena of human rights and business and the related reputational risks posed by such to Switzerland, all the solutions proposed so far have focused on voluntary measures. Neither government nor Parliament has so far been prepared to take the necessary next step and to formulate legally binding requirements on companies based in Switzerland. As a result, the respect for human rights and the environment abroad continues to be left up to the goodwill of Swiss companies.
For this reason a broad coalition of over 50 civil society organizations decided together to launch a popular initiative “for responsible business – for the protection of people and the environment (the responsible business initiative)”. At the heart of the initiative is mandatory due diligence regarding human rights and the environment. Due diligence in this context includes a risk assessment, measures to prevent and eliminate possible human rights violations and environmental damage, as well as comprehensive reporting on the policies in place and the action taken. The duty to carry out due diligence extends through all business operations and is based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, unanimously adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011. The initiative covers all Swiss companies. The scale and complexity of the due diligence depends on the specific risks of the corporation – small and medium-sized enterprises will remain largely unaffected by the initiative.
The text of the initiative is currently under review at the Federal Chancellery and the committee of the initiative is just being established. The association «Initiative for responsible business» will launch the initiative in the second half of April 2015. The collection of signatures will start at the beginning of May.
Rahel Ruch, coordinator, +41 (0)76 517 02 08, email@example.com
Michel Egger, coordinator, +41 (0)79 599 97 30, firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to the editor:
In the event that the initiators of a popular initiative manage to collect 100,000 signatures across 18 months, a binding referendum on the subject will then follow.
The Swiss Council of States approves the postulate on compensation for victims
Access to Justice: the First Step
The Council of States today approved postulate 14.3663. This requires a report on access to remedy for victims of human rights violations by companies. The way is now open for the Federal Council to close a significant gap for victims of human rights violations. The Swiss Coalition for Corporate Justice (SCCJ) calls for a rapid and detailed clarification of the current situation and effective measures for Switzerland.
In 2012 the SCCJ petition was filed. One hundred and thirty-five thousand signatories demanded on the one hand that Swiss companies respect human rights and environmental standards around the world, and on the other, that victims be able to claim compensation here in Switzerland. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the Council of States has included this second part of the petition in the postulate adopted today by the Council of States. The report will detail the judicial and non-judicial measures implemented in other countries for people whose human rights have been violated by companies in host States that enable effective access to remedy in the companies’ home state. The Federal Council is to consider what measures would be suitable for Switzerland.
With the adoption of this postulate, the Federal Council has been effectively given the instruction to analyze the third pillar of the UN guiding principles on business and human rights ("access to remedy") in depth. This is necessary because, as the Federal Council writes in its response to the postulate, gaps exist in this area so far. Such a report, "brings updated findings in two areas that have hitherto only been touched on peripherally or considered from different angles." This is why the Federal Council wants to integrate the report in the National Action Plan (NAP) for the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles (see postulate 12.3505).
The SCCJ calls on the Federal Council to take the work on this report quickly in hand so that the National Action Plan (NAP) currently expected in December 2014 is not further delayed. In addition, the coalition expects a clarification of the current gaps in Swiss law and effective measures to improve the situation of those affected.
Bern, 2nd September 2014
Swiss Foreign Affairs Committee wants mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence
A Milestone for Human Rights
The Foreign Affairs Committee of Switzerland’s Lower Chamber has called for human rights and environmental due diligence to be a requirement for companies. The Committee has adopted a motion in response to the government’s comparative law study. The ‘Swiss Coalition for Corporate Justice’ (‘SCCJ’) welcomes this far-sighted move.
The government’s report on human rights due diligence carried out by companies was published in May this year (available in German or French). Commissioned by the Foreign Affairs Committee of Switzerland’s Lower Chamber (“the Committee”), the report sets out the possibilities for anchoring due diligence duties for companies in law.
The Committee has now taken the next logical step, adopting a committee motion calling for draft legislation based on the findings of the report, to be developed either in the context of the upcoming corporate law reforms or in a separate project. By so doing, one of the first hurdles for the implementation of the SCCJ petition, which was filed in 2012 with 135,000 signatures, has been overcome.
The introduction of such a due diligence requirement would go a significant way to preventing human rights violations and environmental crimes before any damage occurs. It would require companies to identify actual and potential risks to human rights and the environment, take measures against those risks and report on the mechanisms and processes put in place. Due diligence is also at the heart of the UN Human Rights Council’s 2011 unanimously-adopted Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Should Parliament approve the motion, Switzerland would be playing a leading role in the implementation of these guiding principles. This would be an appropriate step for Switzerland to take, being not only the home state of the UN but also the place of domicile for numerous internationally operating companies as well.
The SCCJ calls on the federal parliament to support the Committee’s motion.
Bern, May 28, 2014
Report of the Federal Council on human rights and environmental due diligence
The Federal Council acknowledges problems and knows the solution, but stops short of implementation
The Federal Council published its report today in fulfillment of postulate 12.3980. The postulate arose in response to the Swiss Coalition for Corporate Justice petition, and demanded information about the ways to require businesses to undertake human rights and environmental due diligence. The Federal Council confirms that there is a need for action and that legislation on due diligence is conceivable. It is now up to Parliament to act.
Swiss corporations keep making negative headlines. The latest report was made by the Swiss television show, "Rundschau", on the Glencore subsidiary Mopani, the company which operates a copper mine in Zambia. The Mopani mine dumps huge amounts of sulphur dioxide into the environment, with emissions that exceed the WHO guideline values by almost forty times. The incidence of respiratory disease and the death rate in this area are extremely high. Such incidents show that human rights violations and pollution from corporate activities are reality. The Swiss Coalition for Corporate Justice (SCCJ)calls for binding rules for Swiss companies.
The Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council responded to the SCCJ petition – signed by 135,000 people - with a postulate, calling for a report on the possibilities to require businesses to carry out human rights and environmental due diligence. The instrument of due diligence is the centrepiece of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, principles that were unanimously adopted by the Human Rights Council in 2011. The Federal Council has today published its report, in which it recognizes the need for action: "The density of international companies based in Switzerland is very high. The question of whether or not Switzerland should play a leading role in the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and other international standards in the field of human rights and environmental protection is therefore justified.” Switzerland carries therefore for "a great responsibility [regarding] the observance of human rights and environmental protection, particularly in countries with insufficient rule of law”. The Federal Council acknowledges the relevance of a combination of mandatory and voluntary measures, and sees a national and international "trend towards transparency and increased direct responsibility of companies for their impacts on human rights and the environment."
For the first time, the Federal Council demonstrates various ways in which due diligence and/or reporting requirements for companies could be enshrined in law. The variant that in the eyes of the Federal Council goes the furthest ("due diligence as a duty and responsibility of the Board, plus reporting requirements as well as an external audit") is an absolute minimum for the Swiss Coalition for Corporate Justice. The danger with any of the other options is that they will degenerate into ineffective basic declaratory principles.
The Swiss Coalition for Corporate Justice welcomes this positive review by the Federal Council and its fundamental appreciation for binding rules: "By recognizing the legislative need for action in this area, Switzerland would assume responsibility for active promotion of the observance of human rights and the protection of the environment”. It is, however, unfortunate that the Federal Council stops short in the "Foundation for Concrete Legislative Proposals" and missed the opportunity to take the next logical step by actually legislating on due diligence.
The ball is now in Parliament’s court. From the SCCJ perspective, preparations for a possible popular initiative on this issue are now well advanced. The focus of the draft text is precisely on these means of prevention, creating a duty for companies to carry out due diligence particularly on its overseas business operations, and emphasizing the responsibility of the local parent company for the entire supply chain.
For additional information contact:
Rahel Ruch, SCCJ Coordinator, tel +41 76 517 02 08, email@example.com
Michel Egger, SCCJ Coordinator, tel +41 79 599 97 30, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chantal Peyer, SCCJ / Pain pour le prochain, tel +41 79 759 39 30, Peyer@bfa-ppp.ch
The Swiss Coalition for Corporate Justice is an association of 50 development and human rights organizations, environmental and women's organizations, trade unions, church groups and critical shareholder associations. The Coalition advocates for clear rules for international companies, so that they must respect human rights and environmental standards worldwide. www.rechtohnegrenzen.ch.
Press release 23.1.2013, Davos
Mr. Schneider-Ammann, put corporations on a leash!
Passers-by, including WEF participants and ski tourists, today took advantage of the event staged by the "Corporate Justice" coalition in Davos literally to hold Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann to account. With the handle on his necktie, they reminded him and the entire Federal Cabinet of their duty to rein in globally active corporations and ensure that they respect human rights and the environment - worldwide. At the same time, thousands of people sent e-mail reminders to the Minister for Economic Affairs Johann Schneider-Ammann and to Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter.
This year too, Governments and CEOs are meeting for discussions, workshops and informal talks during the World Economic Forum. Despite the official theme "Resilient Dynamism", the programme still does not include risks such as human rights violations or environmental pollution. With altogether six representatives, the Federal Cabinet also has a high-profile presence at the WEF.
When it comes to human rights-compliant and environment-friendly economic activities by multinational corporations, Switzerland bears a special responsibility: Many of these firms are headquartered here. Some of them are constantly making headlines because of human and labour rights violations or environmental pollution.
"Corporate Justice" therefore handed in a petition seven months ago with over 135,000 signatures. It calls on the Federal Cabinet and Parliament to institute binding rules compelling firms headquartered in Switzerland to respect human rights and the environment worldwide.
Already in 2011, the UN Human Rights Council urged all Governments to take concrete steps to ensure that "their" companies observe human rights. Whereas other States are already discussing specific action, our Federal Cabinet has remained inactive, hiding behind "self-responsibility” on the part of companies.
Thousands therefore used the occasion of the WEF in Davos to send e-mails reminding the Minister for Economic Affairs and the entire Federal Council of their responsibility. The public is invited, until the end of the week, to keep sending reminders to Economic Affairs Minister Schneider-Ammann and Foreign Minister Burkhalter finally to rein in corporations.
Press Release 13.06.2012
Submission of the petition
Pictures from the submission of the petition 13.06.12
Press Release 25.01.2012
Corporations on the leash – rally in Davos
50 "invisible" dogs strayed through the streets of Davos today, drawing much attention. The ‘Corporate Justice’ alliance rounded up its street action with a rally, calling to put corporations on a short leash - like the invisible dogs. The heads of Greenpeace International and Amnesty International supported the alliances's core demand:, Corporations should be required by law to comply with human rights and environmental standards.
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