They may well be isolated cases, but there is method to them. Powerful Swiss-based multinational corporations repeatedly violate human rights and damage the environment abroad. While the vast majority of Swiss companies operate responsibly, these companies secure competitive advantages for themselves by outrageous means, endangering not least of all the progress achieved through Swiss development cooperation. In Cerro de Pasco in Peru, a Glencore mine is digging an enormous hole in the city, and children are suffering from lead poisoning. In India, rural workers are dying after inhaling Syngenta pesticides that are banned from sale in Switzerland. In countries with weak institutional structures, victims of such atrocities have no fair chance of obtaining redress.
The Responsible Business Initiative is offering relief in this regard. It calls on Swiss-based corporations to abide by internationally recognised human rights and environmental standards. If these corporations persist in violating human rights they should be made to answer for their behaviour before an independent court in Switzerland – in other words in the country where the corporation’s head office takes the relevant decisions. Responsible behaviour should be a matter of course, yet all too often things look different in practice. It is children, rural workers and indigenous communities who pay the price with their health and their lives.
The opponents of the initiative are fighting their campaign with false statements and scaremongering. No company will abandon the advantageous tax jurisdiction of Switzerland because it has to observe human rights and environmental protection standards. The fact is that numerous countries are ahead of Switzerland in this regard, having already enacted laws similar in effect to the initiative. As pertains to the initiative, Switzerland is by no means alone, but is instead in good company.
The Federal Council's counterproposal, which would take effect should the initiative be rejected, is clearly a token exercise. All that it requires of companies – including the most unscrupulous ones – is for them to whitewash their human rights practices in glossy brochures every year. That changes nothing for the victims of human rights violations and the disastrous consequences of environmental degradation. This is why there are over 200 000 volunteers of all ages in 400 local committees working tirelessly throughout Switzerland to promote the initiative. Numerous entrepreneurs and conservative politicians as well as the national bodies of all Swiss cantonal churches also support the initiative.
Dear reader, please vote "Yes" to the Responsible Business Initiative on 29 November – for the sake of people and the environment, to protect human rights and nature!