Parliament keeps Responsible Business counter-proposal alive

After more than five hours of debate, the House of Representatives voted with 109 to 69 to insist on a counter-proposal to the initiative making Swiss-based companies accountable for human rights and environmental violations abroad. Keystone/Peter Schneider

Switzerland’s parliament remains at logger-heads on how to hold companies accountable for their overseas operations. One chamber is insisting on a counter-proposal to a people’s initiative that would ward off a nationwide vote on the issue.

This content was published on June 13, 2019 - 17:29 and Keystone-SDA/mga

Thursday’s decision puts the House of Representatives on a collision course with Senate, which had earlier rejected the watered-down versionExternal link of the Responsible Business InitiativeExternal link. Senate will later have a second vote on whether to accept or reject the counter-proposal.

If rejected, the voters of Switzerland would then have the final say the issue.

At stake are proposed new laws that would hold Swiss-based companies legally accountable if their overseas subsidiaries violate human rights or environmental standards. The Responsible Business Initiative was launched in 2015 by more than 60 NGOs and was handed in the following year after gaining the required 100,000 signatures of support.

In the House of representatives on Thursday, parliamentarians voted by 109 votes to 69 (with seven abstentions) to yet again accept a counter-proposal to the initiative. The majority of politicians were swayed by examples of companies causing hardship to people in other countries.

These included breathing difficulties for residents near to a copper mine in Zambia, the poisoning of cotton farmers by pesticides in India, child labour on cocoa plantations in Burkina Faso, human rights violations in Morocco and polluted rivers and deforestation in the Congo.

However, business lobby groups insist that the proposed measures in both the initiative and the counter-proposal are too harsh and would damage Swiss business interests.

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