Tensions have flared between campaigners and opponents of the Responsible Business Initiativeexternal link (RBI) in the past few weeks, reaching a precipice on Thursday.  

Palm oil farmer

A palm oil farmer.  One out of every six products sold in retail stores in Switzerland contains palm oil

(Keystone / Hotli Simanjuntak)

The long-anticipated debate in the Swiss Senate on the counterproposal to hold multinationals accountable for actions abroad was postponed indefinitely, and most certainly until after parliamentary electionsexternal link on October 20.  

Senators called for more time to consider the facts and alternatives, but campaigners called the delay tactic a move in favour of big companies. 

If the Senate had agreed on a solid compromise, campaigners may have been willing to pull the initiative altogether. Florian Wettstein, director of the Institute for Business Ethics at the University of St. Gallen and member of the initiative committee, told me that using delay tactics to undermine the initiative may ultimately backfire on lawmakers.   

“We have seen an impressive new wave of support for the initiative in recent days partly as a direct response to these tactics,” he told me.  

Switzerland could end up with egg on its face if the back-and-forth saga drags on. Swiss economic lobby groups have already been called outexternal link for misunderstanding the role of regulation. And as Wettstein outlined in a recent op-ed, the country runs the risk of falling behind as more countries like the Netherlands and France push ahead with laws on human rights due diligence.  

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Some companies have already come out in support of the initiativeexternal link, but it seems that a vote remains a ways off. What’s your take on the RBI and what would you like to see happen next? Drop me a line: jessica.davis@swissinfo.ch  

In other news:  

Our in-depth reportingexternal link in Peru puts the responsible business debate in perspective and shows just how high the stakes are for the people most affected by the activities of Swiss-based multinationals. In June, nearly 1,000 villagers marched against Glencore’s expansion plans at its copper mine in the Peruvian Andes.  

This multimedia reportexternal link brings you up close and personal with villagers who say their health and livelihoods have suffered as a result of the mine. Their demands? To be heard and taken seriously.   

Companies jumped on the Greta climate bandwagon (or sailboat, rather) to New York. Swiss cocoa manufacturer Barry Callebaut says it will be “climate and forest positive” by 2025 and Nestlé is putting its money behind net zero emissions by 2050.   

They appear to be more advanced than the Swiss government which has been slowly but surely moving forward on a carbon lawexternal link. But, a deeper look behind company facades finds that many still leave a lot to be desired – more than four-fifthsexternal link of the world’s largest companies don’t have targets in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. Fiddling with the raw data produces some startling resultsexternal link for Swiss companies.  

Nestlé’s palm oil woes were back in the news after a report found that the company purchases from suppliers in Malaysia that process palm oil from plantations where forced labour is widespreadexternal link. The company says that it has traced 54% of its palm oil volumes to the plantation level, which is progress if we look back a decade or so.   

But a 50-50 chance of forced labour is unlikely to put consumers at ease given that one out of every six products sold in retail stores in Switzerland contains palm oil.  

What’s coming up? My colleague Simon Bradley will be looking at whether the rumours are true that Geneva is losing its attractiveness for multinationals. Have any personal experience or insights on that topic? Drop me a line: jessica.davis@swissinfo.chexternal link. Ditto for any other stories you’d like us to look into. 

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