On 29 of November 2020, Swiss voters will vote on the responsible businesses initiative, which aims to improve human rights and the environmental protections under Swiss law.
Swiss companies are expected to uphold human rights and comply with environmental standards, not just in Switzerland but also when doing business abroad.
Switzerland has played an active role in drawing up uniform international standards on human rights and environmental standards. However, the authors of this initiative, don’t think current measures go far enough. They believe new statutory obligations for Swiss businesses are required.
Under the proposal, Swiss companies would be legally required to consider the human and environmental performance of not only their own activities but also those of every company that supplies or works with them. Swiss companies would be liable for damage caused by any companies they have control over unless they can prove they did sufficient due diligence.
Those behind the plan argue that international businesses that rely on child labour and pollute rivers should be held responsible under Swiss law and that unscrupulous businesses should not be allowed to gain an unfair competitive advantage via such practices.
Those against it, including a majority of government, think it goes too far. A majority of the Federal Council, Switzerland’s executive branch, parliament (108 yes, 88 no, 2 abstentions), and the Council of States, Switzerland’s upper house (30 yes, 13 no, 2 abstentions) reject the plan..
Reflecting this, parliament has approved a counter-proposal to the initiative, which also introduces new reporting and due diligence obligations and fines of up to CHF 100,000 for non-compliance. The government believes it makes more sense to move forward in a more internationally coordinated manner. The counter-proposal will come into effect if the initiative is rejected, unless the counter-proposal itself is rejected in a referendum.