Conservative backlash blocks increased corporate accountability
Berne, 12 March 2015
The Foreign Affairs Committee requested the introduction of mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence for Swiss corporations. This parliamentary proposal, focusing on prevention, has gained broad support from business and political circles. Professor John Ruggie, the former UN Special Representative and author of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, welcomed this motion as well. Yesterday's evening vote had a promising start; after an in-depth debate about this important issue, the motion was accepted by one vote, with the President of the lower chamber breaking a tie (91 voting in favour, 90 against). For roughly one and a half hours Switzerland was a political leader in international corporate accountability.
Despite a broad alliance, an about-face followed later that evening. Due to pressure from the conservative business lobbies (SwissHoldings, Economiesuisse), the right political parties requested a re-vote. Shortly before the end of the session at 6:47 PM, the second vote ended with 95 voting against the motion and 86 in favour.
A very significant minority of elected Swiss representatives wants Switzerland to strengthen the accountability of its multinational enterprises, while conservative forces, ignoring the international trend towards more corporate accountability, continue to stand in the way. The blockage of this pivotal aspect of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights clearly shows that without further pressure, Switzerland will not change. That's why over 60 non-governmental organizations are jointly launching the Popular Initiative for Responsible Business in April. This political tool is urgently needed and more promising then ever.
Rahel Ruch, Coordinator, Swiss Coalition for Corporate Justice, Tel. +41 76 517 02 08, firstname.lastname@example.org
Michel Egger, Coordinator, Swiss Coalition for Corporate Justice, Tel. +41 79 599 97 30, email@example.com
* Notes to the editor: Popular Initiatives in Switzerland: This quite unique Swiss instrument allows for a binding popular vote on a proposal of a constitutional amendment if 100'000 signatures can be collected in an 18-month period.
The Swiss Coalition for Corporate Justice (SCCJ) is a coalition of 60 development and human rights organizations, environmental and women's organizations, trade unions, church groups and critical shareholder associations. The Coalition advocates for clear rules for international companies, so that they must respect human rights and environmental standards worldwide. www.corporatejustice.ch