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19 Jun 2018

Simon Bradley, swissinfo.ch (Switzerland)

Switzerland: Natl. Council adopts corporate human rights due diligence bill; NGO calls it a compromise but welcomes step forward

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"Swiss firms lack 'unified approach' on business and human rights", 14 June 2018

Companies in Switzerland are quite active when it comes to corporate social responsibility, but a common approach is lacking and many large firms are unfamiliar with their international human rights obligations, says business ethics campaigner Chantal Peyer. Peyer, head of business and human rights at the Swiss non-governmental organisation Bread for All, was in Geneva on Thursday for the Second Swiss Global Compact Dialogue... Bread for All is part of a coalition of 105 NGOs, church groups, unions and campaigners behind the Responsible Business Initiative, currently a hot political topic in Switzerland...

swissinfo.ch: On Thursday, the House of Representatives [National Council] adopted a counter-proposal to the Responsible Business Initiative, which is less binding in terms of human rights obligations. The Senate [Council of States] must still vote on it. Can this counter-proposal really improve the situation for victims whose human rights may have been violated by Swiss firms?

C.P.: We were disappointed as we were forced to compromise and drop lots of elements from our initiative in favour of the counter-proposal. But it's a compromise that allows us to take a step forward, and something which we intend to support if it is not modified anymore. In fact, it enables us to go much faster in finding solutions to these issues, as we will have a legal text and not a constitutional change, which could take years with parliament.

Even though the initiative has been watered down, the counter-proposal contains two fundamental elements from the initiative. First, firms will be obliged to do due diligence – the preventive aspect. Second, there is a sanction component, and the possibility for a victim to file a complaint in Switzerland. The sanction has been seriously limited, however. A victim can file a complaint only if the parent company controls a subsidiary abroad and only for three violations: damage to life, damage to personal integrity, or violation of property rights. But it's a first step that will allow victims of the worst violations to be able to seek justice.