Jump to content
Your browser is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this websites. Learn how to update your browser[Close]

Business responsibility

Swiss citizens may force firms to respect rights

A broad coalition of civil society groups has launched a people’s initiative calling for stricter rules to force Swiss companies to respect human rights and environmental standards abroad as well as at home.

The “Responsible Business Initiative”, launched on Tuesday in the Swiss capital, Bern, seeks to ensure that all Swiss companies carry out proper human rights and environmental due diligence, integrating these aspects into their business practices.

The coalition of 66 non-governmental organisations says it has launched the initiative, which could end in a nationwide vote in the next few years, as lengthy talks between politicians, business leaders and activists have led to few specific measures to ensure Swiss firms assume their human rights responsibilities.

The Swiss cabinet and parliament continue to focus exclusively on voluntary measures for businesses, the coalition claims. Parliament narrowly rejected a motion in mid-March for mandatory human rights due diligence.

Although the problem of greater corporate responsibility is recognised, more pressure from civil society is needed to introduce mandatory requirements, the coalition declared on Tuesday.

Manon Schick, director of the Swiss branch of Amnesty International, accused Swiss firms of continuing to be tied to scandals such as catastrophic working conditions in textile factories in Asia or abusive child labour in cocoa production in West Africa.

“The self-regulation of firms has shown its limits,” she said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Guiding principles

Switzerland is home to numerous multinationals, including an estimated 500 in the commodities sector, such as giants Glencore and Trafigura, which represent 3.5% of the country’s gross domestic product.

The coalition includes former cabinet ministers Ruth Dreifuss and Micheline Calmy-Rey, former senator and prosecutor Dick Marty and former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross Cornelio Sommaruga.

According to the campaigners, companies must fully take on board the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, adopted in 2011. They must review all their business relationships and activities with a view to identifying potential risks to people and the environment.

They must then take effective measures to combat the potentially negative impacts identified. 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.  


On Tuesday 500 people took part in a demonstration in Lausanne to protest against speculation by commodity traders. Senior executives from firms like Trafigura, Cargill, Guvnor, Mercuria and Louis Dreyfus, traders, academics and industry officials are currently taking part in the 4th FT Commodities Global Summit at the Beau Rivage Hotel from April 20-22, 2015.

People’s initiative

A people’s initiative allows citizens to propose a change to the Swiss constitution. For the change to be put to a nationwide vote, at least 100,000 valid signatures have to be collected and submitted to the Federal Chancellery within 18 months for consideration.

The proposal goes before parliament, which can accept the initiative, reject it or make a counter-proposal. The people get to vote on it in any case. For an initiative to succeed, it has to carry both a majority of voters and a majority of the cantons.

swissinfo.ch with agencies


All rights reserved. The content of the website by swissinfo.ch is copyrighted. It is intended for private use only. Any other use of the website content beyond the use stipulated above, particularly the distribution, modification, transmission, storage and copying requires prior written consent of swissinfo.ch. Should you be interested in any such use of the website content, please contact us via contact@swissinfo.ch.

As regards the use for private purposes, it is only permitted to use a hyperlink to specific content, and to place it on your own website or a website of third parties. The swissinfo.ch website content may only be embedded in an ad-free environment without any modifications. Specifically applying to all software, folders, data and their content provided for download by the swissinfo.ch website, a basic, non-exclusive and non-transferable license is granted that is restricted to the one-time downloading and saving of said data on private devices. All other rights remain the property of swissinfo.ch. In particular, any sale or commercial use of these data is prohibited.