Swiss Plan of Action for CSR -(2015-2019) The Swiss Federal Council has just adopted a document which defines their position with regards to the corporate social responsibility concerning Swiss business (CSR).
It is clear from this document that the Swiss government expects their economic actors to assume their responsibilities towards society. The government wants to reinforce the positioning of Swiss enterprises in terms not only of their competitiveness but also with regards to the role they play in society. Being responsible with regards to sustainable development and helping resolve social challenges is expected by the government according to this action plan.
The interdisciplinary process leading up to the document and policy position taken was led by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO and, according to their communication, there are two main objectives: firstly, to inform business enterprises and their stakeholders of the objectives and expectation of the Swiss government with regards to the responsibility of business.
Secondly, the report wishes to outline current and future activities of the Swiss government at federal level with regards to CSR. According to their press release, the Swiss Action plan has four strategic axis: the Swiss government will be involved in the conception of CSR standards at the international level; the government will promote CSR activities to Swiss companies; they will reinforce CSR activities in developing countries or countries in transition; and finally the Swiss government will promote the transparency of CSR activities.
This is good news and it will be interesting to see the progress made at the end of the first two years when SECO will submit a report outlining their progress with regards to this action plan.
Business and Human Rights and Switzerland
It is interesting to note that the Swiss Action Plan for CSR did not yet outline the decision of the Swiss government with regards to their strategy to implement the UN Framework on Business and Human Rights .
Concern about business and human rights is not new in Switzerland (or elsewhere). In 2011, the Swiss Coalition for Corporate Justice (SCCJ) with the involvement of more than 60 NGOs, asked the Swiss Federal Council to create the legal basis necessary to ensure that companies with their headquarters in Switzerland respect human rights and the environment globally. The SCCJ Coalition organized a petition which was presented to the Swiss parliament in 2012. One of the demands made pertained to a National Action plan on Business and Human Rights.
In a recent paper, “Human Rights due diligence: Swiss civil society pushes the envelope”, Elizabeth Umlas discussed the way this issue has unfolded in Switzerland, the petition organized by the Coalition, and their subsequent decision to launch a popular initiative demanding mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence throughout the operations of Swiss business. The work to collect the 100,000 signatures required to request a binding referendum will begin in May, 2015.
In summary, the work of the Swiss government to come up with a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights is underway and will, according to the Swiss governments latest press report, see the light of day in summer, 2015. At the same time, the SCCJ Coalition is continuing in their efforts to ensure a binding referendum is enacted in Switzerland which will ensure human rights and environmental standards and due diligence throughout business operations.
A fascinating time to see how the UN framework on Business and Human Rights will be implemented effectively in Switzerland and for Swiss companies globally!
Mary Mayenfisch-Tobin, BCL, LL.M, Solicitor