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Don’t bank here and exploit others, say church leaders in Switzerland

23 October 2020

‘Companies should respect human rights abroad as well’


The first snow is seen on mountains behind the church in Glion, Switzerland, at the end of last month

The first snow is seen on mountains behind the church in Glion, Switzerland, at the end of last month

CHURCHES in Switzerland have backed legislation to penalise multinationals that abuse human rights and damage the environment, and have urging that their country’s neutral and humanitarian traditions be deployed to encourage similar steps internationally.

“Human rights provide a protective shield for everyone against inhuman treatment by a third party — this requires companies to respect human rights abroad as well,” the Evangelical Reformed Church said in a joint statement with Switzerland’s Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

“It makes it all the more important that international enterprises headquartered in Switzerland actively contribute to protecting human rights where they cannot be guaranteed because of precarious political and legal conditions.”

The statement was issued in support of a Corporate Responsibility Initiative, which threatens sanctions against companies that fail to uphold environmental and human-rights standards, and is to be put to a national referendum on 29 November.

The Churches said that the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights had evoked a “conception of humanity”, which was based on Judaeo-Christian values and embraced people worldwide. It should, they said, apply to multinationals under corporate-responsibility rules set out by the 37-state Organisation on Economic Co-operation and Development.

“This Initiative urgently appeals to both our government and the community of nations to engage with determination and without compromise for the validation and respect of human rights worldwide. . . Such conditions must apply not just in Switzerland, but in all countries where Swiss enterprises or their affiliates are present.”

The Corporate Responsibility Initiative, first launched by Swiss civil-society groups in 2015, was turned into a parliamentary Bill in 2018, and approved with modifications in June. If adopted in the referendum, it will trigger constitutional amendments imposing due-diligence requirements on Swiss companies worldwide.

The Churches’ statement said that a free world economy required the “widest possible legal protection”. There should be special advocacy in Switzerland, which hosts the International Red Cross and United Nations organisations.

“Swiss multinationals carry a humanitarian tradition, based on the rule of law, with them around the world,” the Churches said. “No business should be able to profit or gain competitive advantage from violating or circumventing human rights.”

Western firms have frequently been accused of complicity in rights violations and abuses while obtaining minerals and raw materials. At least eight European countries are working on duty-of-care legislation to ensure greater accountability.
A legally binding Instrument on Business and Human Rights is to be debated at the UN this autumn. The European Union implemented a Conflict Minerals Regulation last January, and has launched a public consultation on further restrictions.

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