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18 Sep 2019

Companies clarify position on Swiss mandatory human rights due diligence initiative

The Swiss Responsible Business Initiative (RBI) - a popular political initiative launched by an NGO coalition in 2015 seeking to introduce mandatory human rights due diligence requirements for Swiss companies - has been making its way through the Swiss parliament for the past two years (further information on the RBI is available here). Last year, the Swiss National Council (lower house) adopted a bill ("counter-proposal") which, despite including important concessions on liability and the number of companies covered, meets the initiative's key demands. For the bill to become law, it still needs the approval of the Council of States (upper house), whose decision on a counter-proposal is due in the coming autumn parliamentary session.

In this context, a group of 19 large Swiss companies in a letter addressed to the Legal Affairs Committee of the Council of States on 8 August 2019 expressed concern that the RBI and the counter-proposal are unprecented in their scope and application when compared to other jurisdictions and would therefore expose Swiss companies to high legal risks. Swiss media reports criticised the letter for actively advocating against the political compromise the Swiss parliament has been striving to develop over the past two years. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre contacted the 19 companies that signed the letter asking them to clarify their position. 

Economiesuisse, the umbrella organisation of Swiss business, and SwissHoldings, the federation representing Swiss-based multinational enterprises from the manufacturing and service sector, sent us a joint response, available below, stating it should be regarded as the official reply of the companies they represent. Nestlé and Lafarge Holcim nevertheless sent us full individual responses, also available below. NovartisSonova and Swiss Re referred us to the response from economiesuisse and SwissHoldings and provided additional information. Bucher, ClariantCredit Suisse, Geberit, Rieter, Roche, Schindler, SyngentaUBSVifor Pharma and Zurich referred us to the response from economiesuisse and SwissHoldings. We will indicate if Bühler, Lonza and Sika respond in the near future.

Professor John Ruggie, the author of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), responded to the associations' letter, clarifying the role of legislative measures. His letter is available below. Along with John Ruggie, focusright - a Swiss consultancy who co-authored a 2018 study referenced in the associations' response - and the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights (GBI) also sent us letters in response to the associations' letter, available below.

See also our list of large businesses and associations with statements in support of human rights due diligence regulation, including from Switzerland.