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Responsible business initiative enjoys solid support

Environmental aspects of the so-called Responsible Business Initiative could play a central role beside human rights issues, according to pollsters. Keystone/Frank Augstein

A proposal to impose due diligence rules on Swiss-based firms active abroad currently stands a chance of winning voters’ approval, pollsters say.

This content was published on October 23, 2020 - 06:00

A separate initiative aimed at restricting financial investments in arms manufacturers also has a slight majority in an opinion poll seven weeks ahead of a nationwide ballot on November 29.

But both left-wing proposals are expected to lose ground over the next few weeks as the campaigns heat up.

For details see chart below:

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Supporters of the so-called Responsible Business or Corporate Responsibility Initiative have a 30-percentage point lead. It has solid backing notably from the political left, women and low-income earners, according to the poll.

It was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo.ch’s parent company.

One of the crucial factors that could decide the outcome of the vote is the support of the grassroots centrist parties and independent voters, says Martina Mousson, project leader at the GfS Bern research institute that conducted the survey.

The arguments of supporters appear to be more convincing for many respondents in the poll at this stage, says Mousson.

“The intentions of the initiative are broadly welcomed,” she says.

The political scientist believes that particularly environmental aspects of the initiative could play a key role in attracting voters from outside the left-wing political spectrum.

However, Mousson says concerns about how stricter corporate rules could negatively impact the Swiss economy could tip the balance against the initiative, as has been the case for previous left-wing appeals for economic justice.

The latest proposal was launched nine years ago by a coalition of human rights and environmental protection groups together with trade unions, women’s rights organisations and church groups.

Its objective is for Swiss companies to apply international human rights and environmental standards not only to their own operations at home but also in their commercial activities in other countries. Swiss-based companies failing to exercise appropriate due diligence could be held liable.

Based on the data from the first GfS Bern survey, Mousson argues the campaigners are in a win-win situation regardless of the outcome of the vote.

“Support of about 45% for the initiative can be seen as a moral victory,” she says.

Ethical investment policy

A clear gender gap is one of the most remarkable findings in the survey about an initiative targeting investments in arms producers.

Currently 63% of women taking part in the poll said they will vote, or most likely vote for the initiative. The support among men is clearly lower – at 34%.

Lukas Golder, political scientist and co-director of the GfS Bern institute, says the increasing interest of women in political decisions since last year’s parliamentary elections is striking.

The proposal for a constitutional amendment was launched by a pacifist group and the youth chapter of the Green Party. It demands that notably the Swiss National Bank, as well as the country’s pension funds, stop investments in firms involved in activities that harm society and the environment.

The proposal pits the political left against most other parties, the government and the business community.

Golder adds the current lead for supporters may dwindle soon.

“The moral aspect of the initiative seems to be attractive for many citizens, as is often the case with left-wing initiatives, but doubts about the practical impact regularly win voters over,” he says.

It is not clear to experts what impact the Covid-19 pandemic will have on the campaigns and whether views on the corporate responsibility initiative could also influence an initiative that also seeks to rein in unethical business activities.

Polling details

Pollsters interviewed 15,267 Swiss citizens from all language regions across the country for the first 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 October 5-19.

The margin of error is 2.9%.

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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