Swiss trade associations are having the blues. They most definitely did not favour the mass immigration initiative, but were instead very keen on Corporate Tax Reform III (USR III). In both cases the people's will was different. "What is good for the economy is also good for Switzerland" is a mantra that the people no longer trust. Or they no longer consider the trade associations capable of recognizing what is good for Switzerland and for the economy.
On 12 February 2017, USR III was rejected with a clear majority of nearly 60 per cent of the votes. From a development standpoint, this outcome is to be welcomed. USR III would have created new tax loopholes and massive incentives for multinational corporations to shift substantial profits untaxed from developing countries to Switzerland. Yet this was not the main reason for the rejection at the polls.
There is another reason for the failure of the draft tax law. More than anything else, the supposed "reform" was an attempt to preserve the tax-privileged status quo for multinational corporations under the pretext of international competitiveness. But most of the population is fed up with policies designed to serve highly mobile multinational corporations at any price. Companies that regularly threaten an exodus to places with lower taxes, more lax environmental rules and lower labour standards do not make themselves popular. Policies that serve of the world's economic elites pave the way for even lower standards, which will also affect Switzerland in the long run.
Since the 1980s, the apologists for the prevailing neoliberal globalization, which subjugates all policies to economic considerations, have been fervently promising the world more prosperity for all. But the reality looks different, and the disenchantment with the highly inequitable outcomes of neoliberal globalization is taking unpleasant forms. In the USA, it has fuelled the election of Trump the populist, who wants to resume the practice of unilaterally enforcing US interests in the world economy instead of attempting to improve multilaterally agreed rules. When powerful industrialized countries like the USA adopt a mix of selective protectionism and unilateralism, it is harmful not only to Switzerland, but also to developing countries.
What is needed is globalization that is guided by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on climate change and of course the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as well. Their implementation is proving problematic. Switzerland's Federal Council recently adopted an entirely toothless national action plan on business and human rights. At the same time it has announced that it will recommend rejection, with no counterproposal, of the "Responsible Business Initiative", which is broadly supported by civil society and calls for tougher measures. The picture is different in France, where the National Assembly has recognized the signs of the times and adopted a law that makes human rights due diligence binding on large corporations.