Daily Management Review

RBI’s Human Rights And Environment Proposal Leaves The Country ‘Divisive’


Swiss population create history as regional difference overshadows popular support.

Recently, on a national vote, the proposal on human rights and environment was rejected by Swiss population owing to “regional differences”, although it had acquired “majority of popular support” which left the nation to narrowly avoid “facing greater liability for human rights and environmental abuses”.
The “divisive referendum” had garnered “50.7%” support for the RBI, Responsible Business Initiative, proposals of extending “liability over international human rights abuses and environmental harm” as a result of major Swiss firms and companies abroad controlled by them. Nevertheless, the RBI did not receive the support from “majority of cantons”, which plays a decisive role in enacting any public initiative in Switzerland. Likewise, the government has an alternate option of coming out “milder proposals”.
In a sixty years’ history, the country has witness something like this for the very first time wherein a proposal received “popular support” but lost due to lack of support from “regional grounds”. In the words of the Justice Minister, Karin Keller-Sutter:
“The Federal Council is pleased with the result, but is also aware that many who have fought for years for the initiative are disappointed today”.
“The Federal Council is convinced that this is a good way to achieve the common and undisputed goal of better protecting human rights and the environment.”
Earlier, it was left on the firms to voluntarily disclose information about their overseas “operations and supply chains” but under the new government proposal, they will have to follow public reporting guidelines as mandatary while just stopping before “extending liability to Swiss courts”.
Reuters quoted a business ethics’ professor from “University of St. Gallen”, Florian Wettstein, who also is a “co-organiser of the initiative”, saying:
“Human rights is such a fundamental issue. People understand you can’t justify human rights violations by economic considerations”.
In the said campaign which left the country divided, the multinationals and the government stood on one side denouncing “the negative economic consequences of the proposal”, while the religious and the activist sections along with “various political factions” of the population stood on the other side arguing about the risk of Switzerland being left behind in comparison to “other countries in tackling progressive social and economic issues without it”. In the words of the parliamentarian, Christa Markwalder:
“It was the most aggressive campaign I’ve ever experienced in my 20 years in politics”.