13 November 2020

Respect for human rights makes businesses stronger!


An important referendum in Switzerland concerns us all.


On the 29th of November in Switzerland the initiative concerning responsible businesses to protect human rights and the environment will be up for a popular referendum.  This initiative is close to my heart and to that of the organisation I work for, ActionAid.

As Swiss citizens, we benefit from the entrepreneurship of many Swiss and international companies that have established their headquarters in our country. We have much to offer, in return such as a beautiful landscape, low taxation, good infrastructure, a functioning justice system, a stable political environment.

Respect for the rule of law, for human rights and for the environment are seated deep in our laws and tradition and are part of our core values.  Many of the institutions that develop, advance and protect human rights worldwide are based in Switzerland.

Respect for human rights are universal values, but in many countries citizens, especially the poor, marginalized, very often women and children, are not well protected. When their livelihoods are at risk, their land is grabbed, their water polluted, their work exploited by the activities of powerful corporations, they often have no recourse, no access to justice, as the institutions that should protect them are weak.   Sleek corporate responsibility reports do not tell us the stories of the human suffering behind the beautiful images and words.


So it seems to me that if businesses that operate in such countries bring their profit in our safe heaven, protected by our laws, the people who may have suffered abuses in producing such bounties, should be able to claim some protection too by our laws and institutions, when they cannot do so in their own country.

Respect for human rights and for the environment are not optional, tailor made, to fit as we please, but are universal and at the core of what we are and what we do.

The opponents and the government say that voting in favour of this initiative will hold us back, that it will put our businesses at a disadvantage.  I think that, to the contrary, if businesses incorporate the values they externally profess, and protect human rights along their supply chain,  it will make their foundation and their grounding in society stronger and more sustainable.  Only when businesses all along their supply chain are made responsible and accountable for abuses and adverse effects that their operations may have had, and when victims can have access to redress in a meaningful way, when profit does not come at the expenses of many for the privileges of a few, then business is good for us all.