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Support for left-wing ethical business initiatives slipping

The initiative for more corporate responsibility targets Swiss-based multinationals and the campaigners have used emotive imagery to put across their message to voters. Keystone/Abir Abdullah

A proposal to make Swiss-based companies accountable for their business activities abroad is losing ground, according to a final opinion poll.

This content was published on November 18, 2020 - 06:00

Experts say the last days of campaigning could be decisive for the outcome of the vote on November 29.

A similar trend towards a “No” vote is noticeable for a proposed ban for investments in conventional weapons. Pollsters say approval of this initiative at the ballot box is unlikely.

The poll was carried out during the first half of November by the leading GfS Bern research institute on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation – swissinfo.ch’s parent company.

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The proposal for legally binding standards of corporate responsibility, also known as Responsible Business initiative, has lost 6% of support within a month. Instead opponents succeeded in narrowing the gap to 16%.

The percentage of respondents who said they are still undecided account for 11% - down from 18% in October.

“One of the key issues is which side will be better at mobilising their grassroots,” says Martina Mousson, project leader and political scientist at GfS Bern.

Currently supporters of the initiative still have a majority but there are several indications showing a general trend towards a “No” vote.

“This makes it tricky for pollsters,” Mousson says. But it is safe to say that the situation is too close to call.

No protest vote

A closer look at the latest polling results showed voters with links to centrist parties and those without any particular party preference changing sides to reject the initiative.

There are no signs of an anti-government protest vote.

However, support appears to be strong among women, in French- and Italian-speaking regions and among the grassroots of left-wing parties.

Asked about the main motivation to reject the proposal for legally binding ethical business standards, a growing number of respondents said they are concerned about a negative impact of the initiative on the Swiss economy already weakened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The need to promote fair play in business is considered the most convincing argument in favour of the initiative, according to the pollsters.

“Human rights and environmental protection are driving factors that could give the initiative a boost,” says Mousson.

Nevertheless, approval of the initiative would be exceptional, as most constitutional amendments were rejected by voters over the past 130 years, notably proposals that were launched by left-wing groups.

War materiel

The situation is more clear-cut for another left-wing proposal to ban financial investments by the central bank, pension funds and foundations into the production of war materiel.

The latest survey found opponents narrowing the gap to just five percentage points from 13% a month ago.

Lukas Golder, political scientist and co-director of GfS Bern, says critics have been able to show the potential weaknesses of the pacifist initiative.

“Respondents increasingly question whether the proposal will have the intended impact and they fear the Swiss economy might pay a very high price if the proposal wins a majority,” he says.

Golder notes the strong support for the initiative among women and in the French-speaking part of the country.

“The left-wing proposal is not likely to win a majority which wasn’t quite as much at the centre of discussions as the Responsible Business initiative,” Golder adds.

Expat Swiss

The survey, which combines online results and telephone interviews, also polled Swiss citizens living abroad.

Typically, expat Swiss respondents are more left-leaning than potential voters living in Switzerland.

The initiative for corporate responsibility, launched by a broad alliance of NGOs, appears to appeal to 76% of expat Swiss surveyed – nearly 20% more than in Switzerland. Support for the weapons investment ban is also stronger although only by 8%.

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Polling details

Pollsters interviewed 10,069 Swiss citizens from all language regions across the country as well as expat Swiss for the second of two nationwide surveys.

The survey is based on online responses as well as telephone interviews, both with fixed line and mobile phone users, and was carried out from November 2-11.

The margin of error is 2.7%.

The poll was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), swissinfo.ch’s parent company, and carried out by the GfS Bern research institute.

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