Swiss electorate to vote in referendum on corporate environmental and human rights responsibilities

Swiss voters will take to the polls today, 29 November, to vote on whether they believe corporations should be made liable for human rights violations and disregard of binding environmental standards. 

The federal popular initiative “For responsible companies – for the protection of people and the environment”, also known as the Corporate Responsibility Initiative, is lead by an initiative committee of 23 people including the director of the Swiss section of Amnesty International and the President of the board of trustees of Greenpeace Switzerland.

 The initiative puts forward an amendment to the Swedish federal constitution to demand that corporations based in Switzerland adhere to stringent environmental and human rights standards in and outside of the country. The initiative requires corporations to take into account the protection of people and the environment, something that the business industry has also agreed internationally since the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Dick Marty, co-chairman of the initiative committee, explains:  “Our initiative aims to be obvious. Having to take responsibility for one’s actions is a fundamental principle of our society and of our rule of law. Anyone who causes damage must answer for his actions.”

Switzerland is home to some of the world’s biggest commodity trading companies including Nestle, the multinational food and drink processing conglomerate corporation which has been at the centre of many corporate human rights and environmental abuses. For instance, a 2015 investigation found that the company has been illegally planting cocoa beans in protected areas of the Ivory Coast and Ghana. The company also admitted to using forced labour in Thailand to source seafood products. 

The proposals, to be voted on today, suggest that companies must perform risk assessments to identify how their actions may put people and the environment at risks. These must then be publicly reported and have adequate counter measures taken against them. 

At the polls, the electorate will also cast their votes on another public initiative, for a ban on financing producers of war material. This vote is to consider whether the neutral country, who has not fought in an external war in over 200 years, should cease the funding of arms making companies. 

Recent polling data for both of these initiatives suggest both have majority support from Swiss voters

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