Update: 15.02.2017

Transnational companies: Swiss obligations for the protection of human rights

In June 2010, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) published a study commissioned by a coalition of ten Swiss NGOs which examines whether Switzerland meets its obligations to protect human rights and the environment against misconduct and violations by enterprises. The study reveals an insufficient legislation as well as a lacking willingness in politics to amend these shortcomings and outlines different possible reforms with the aim of Switzerland being able meet international obligations in their entirety.

Reform proposals

Switzerland needs a political strategy to specify more precisely the responsibilities of enterprises in the fields of human rights and the protection of the environment. Existing legal loopholes are to be closed systematically. An important role in this process could be played by the competence centre for human rights presently being created in Switzerland.

Duty of care:
Corporate law could be improved by obliging the parent and holding companies to check on the compliance with human rights and environmental standards through subsidiaries. In order to enforce the duty of care, it should be made possible to initiate proceedings against holding companies with their corporate headquarters in Switzerland. Due diligence should also be a standard in the cooperation with suppliers and trading partners.

Mandatory reporting:
Mandatory reporting should be introduced in environmental and human rights issues as an integral part of accounting. Other European states, such as Denmark or France, could serve as models. Some of the biggest Swiss companies observe self-defined codes of conduct and report on environmental and human rights topics already now.

Possibilities of complaints / Compensation / Support for victims:
In procedural law, the possibility to take class action should be introduced as a way of simplifying access to the legal system. The economic inferiority of individuals in the face of big transnational companies would at least partially be compensated.

Possibilities for monitoring and sanctions:
The effects of entrepreneurial activities on the human rights situation should be monitored more effectively by a future national human rights institution. The Federal authorities should take into consideration its human rights policy in the procurement process and the granting of Export Risk Insurance guarantees.


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