April 21, 2015

Global business? Global responsibility!

A gold mine in an open-cast mine in Tanzania and the logo of the corporate responsibility initiative
A gold mine in an open-cast mine in Tanzania and the logo of the corporate responsibility initiative

If human rights and the environment are endangered by economic activities abroad, corporations based in Switzerland also have a duty: with this message a broad coalition launched the Corporate Responsibility Initiative in Berne today. It is intended to ensure that Swiss companies integrate the protection of human rights and the environment into their business practices in a binding manner.

Disastrous working conditions in clothing factories in Asia or Eastern Europe, abusive child labour in cocoa production in West Africa, lethal emissions in Zambia: Swiss companies are also involved in such abuses through their global operations. In recent years, such cases have been the subject of much discussion, but no concrete measures have been taken. The Federal Council and Parliament continue to rely exclusively on voluntary measures by the companies. For this reason, a broad coalition of various organizations launched the Corporate Responsibility Initiative today. The aim of the initiative is to oblige all companies based in Switzerland to undergo a due diligence review in the area of human rights and the environment.
The 66 launching organizations are now collecting signatures for the Group Responsibility Initiative. You can find a signature form as a pdf file on our Corporate Responsibility Initiative page.
Oriented towards the UN guiding principles
This instrument is based on the "UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights" adopted in 2011. According to these principles, a group must first examine all its business processes and relationships in order to identify potential risks to people and the environment. Subsequently, it must take effective countermeasures to counter such potentially negative effects of its business activities. And as a third step, it is obliged to report transparently on any rights that may have been violated and the measures taken to counteract them.
Switzerland has a great responsibility
Cornelio Sommaruga, former ICRC President and member of the initiative committee, sees the initiative as an important step for our business location: "Switzerland has a great responsibility both as the home of humanitarian organisations and as the home of many transnational corporations. In the interest of our country's reputation, we must also hold our companies to account".
Binding tool to independently minimize risks
Antoinette Hunziker-Ebneter, former Chairwoman of the Swiss Stock Exchange and now CEO of Forma Futura Invest AG, emphasizes: "With this initiative, we can create a new basis on which civil society and private sector voluntary initiatives and state regulatory efforts to protect human rights and the environment can interlock. This gives companies a binding tool to minimize their risks. This strengthens their value as well as their competitive strength.
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