The responsible business initiative soon to be discussed in Swiss Parliament
Inhumane working conditions, child labor and pollution from mines: the IniMulti initiative submitted in 2016 aims to put an end to these unacceptable practices. On the eve of its review by the high chamber of Parliament, a new case is emerging which implicates a Swiss company, who have been previously challenged by TRIAL International.
Switzerland, where many multinationals have established their headquarters, should bears some responsibility for setting a benchmark. However, the scandals that have been in the news show that affirmative action is not enough.
The most recent report, published on 10 September 2019 by Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund, reveals links between the Argor-Heraeus SA refinery and a Colombian gold supplier. According to the NGO, from 2009 to 2018, the refiner in the Ticino canton bought between five and nine tons of gold per year from the Colombian supplier, even though the latter was accused of money laundering, illegitimate enrichment and criminal association.
It is not the first time that Argor-Heraeus SA has accused of questionable practices. In 2013, the company was indicted for refining looted gold in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Holding companies to account
TRIAL International has been fighting for years against corporate impunity for human rights violations. The organization therefore supports this initiative, which seeks to introduce a bill requiring due diligence on the part of corporations.
The bill will require companies to check if their activities abroad lead to human rights violations or harm the environment, and to document all remedial actions they undertake.
Corporations in breach of their duties of due diligence could be held accountable for their acts of omission or commission in a Swiss court. The ensuing financial consequences and damages to their corporate image could sway corporations to take appropriate measures and take responsibility for all of their activities.
The Federal Council opposes the initiators
The initiative has already been the subject of two counter-projects, the first one by the National Council, the lower Chamber of Parliament. The second, proposed by Federal Councilor Karin Keller-Sutter, greatly waters down the initiative by considerably reducing the multinationals’s duties in terms of due diligence.
It is now up to the higher Chamber of Parliament, the Council of States, to work on its own counter-proposal. A verdict is expected in the autumn session of Parliament. The latter could propose an indirect counter-project, i.e. an amendment to the law – and not to the Constitution – which would enter into force if the text of the initiative were to be rejected at the polls.