Swiss reject new liability rules


Dhe Swiss Corporate Responsibility Initiative (KVI) narrowly failed. A majority of the cantons voted against the initiative on Sunday, which was bitterly disputed in Switzerland for months.

Measured by the distribution of all votes cast, the supporters were ahead with 50.7 percent. But the initiators lacked the required majority of the cantons, which is why they are now seen as losers. Such a constellation has not existed in federal referendums since 1955. Almost all German-Swiss cantons voted against the initiative, while it met with approval in the (much smaller) French-speaking Switzerland and Ticino.

The initiative required companies based in Switzerland that violate human rights and international environmental standards abroad to be held accountable under civil law in their home country. The liability would also have related to subsidiaries and economically dependent suppliers. In the event of any civil lawsuits, the accused companies would have had to prove that they had met their due diligence obligations.

“Conservative Switzerland wins over modern”

These requirements went too far for the trade associations. In large-scale campaigns, they warned that there would be a wave of lawsuits and that many smaller companies would withdraw from developing countries because of the increased litigation risks. They also pointed out that the Swiss economy was already under great pressure from the Corona crisis.

These arguments got stuck in rural German-Swiss cantons such as Schwyz, Appenzell-Innerrhoden, Glarus, St. Gallen and Obwalden. For political scientist Lucas Golder, the distribution of votes shows that the Swiss population was deeply divided on this voting issue. “Conservative Switzerland wins over modern, urban Switzerland,” said Golder on Swiss television. But there has never been so much approval for a left-wing cause that does not address a purely Swiss, but an international phenomenon.

The left-liberal FDP politician Dick Marty, who is one of the heads of the KVI, was disappointed about the defeat. At the same time, in view of the tight outcome, he was willing to fight: “If the victory doesn’t come today, it will certainly be tomorrow.”

Tin, tantalum, tungsten

In surveys, the proponents of the initiative were ahead for a long time. The counter-proposal of the government in Bern, which now comes into force after the rejection of the initiative, is likely to have caused the change in the last few meters. According to this, the large Swiss companies are obliged to report on the risks of their foreign business for people and the environment, on corruption and on the measures taken against it. With a view to child labor and conflict minerals (tin, tantalum, tungsten, gold), all companies must now comply with extensive due diligence obligations. However, there are no additional liability rules.

The Swiss also rejected the popular initiative “For a ban on the financing of war material producers” on Sunday. According to projections, around 58 percent voted against. The initiative launched by the “Group for a Switzerland without an Army” and the Young Greens demanded that the Swiss National Bank (SNB), foundations and state and occupational pension institutions (AHV and pension funds) should no longer invest any money in manufacturers of armaments.

Not only arms companies such as Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman were meant. Anyone who generates more than 5 percent of their sales with the manufacture of war material would have been taboo if the initiative had been accepted as an investment goal, including conglomerates such as Airbus, Boeing and Rolls-Royce Holdings.

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