Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A man walks past a campaign banner reading in French "Contaminated drinking water, poisoned child, Multinational held responsible" displayed in the streets of Geneva, on November 29, 2020

A man walks past a campaign banner reading in French "Contaminated drinking water, poisoned child, Multinational held responsible" displayed in the streets of Geneva on November 29, 2020. - Swiss voters rejected on November 29, 2020 a plan to impose the world's strictest corporate responsibility rules, which would have made multinationals headquartered in the country liable for abusive business practices worldwide. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

Swiss Fall Short in Sunday's Vote to Hold Multinational Corporations Accountable

Despite winning a majority of votes, Swiss election rules—much like the US Electoral College—kills the initiative.

Common Dreams staff

Sunday's vote in Switzerland to make multinational companies headquartered in the country—like Nestlé, minerals giant Glencore, agribusiness company Syngenta— liable for human rights violations and environmental abuses abroad failed in a country-wide referendum on Sunday.

The initiative titled "Responsible Companies — to protect people and the environment'' won a narrow majority of votes on Sunday, with 50.7% percent backing it, but failed because a majority of the country's states (or cantons), came out against it. Under the Swiss system, because the initiative proposed a constitutional amendment, it needed the backing of both a popular majority and a majority of cantons to pass.

Organizations like Amnesty International, Greenpeace and the Swiss watchdog group Public Eye backed the proposal. Andreas Missbach, director of Public Eye, said it was a shame that the tougher proposals did not pass, considering that a majority of Swiss voters were in favor. He added that the government-backed legislation was insufficient. “The counterproposal doesn’t really bring us anything other than more glossy corporate sustainability reports,” he said. “The problems are still here; they are not going away.”

The initiative, promoted by a coalition of over 130 civil society organizations, had faced strong opposition from the business sector and the government, which claimed the rules would hurt Swiss companies.

The proposal
The initiative requires Swiss companies to examine whether they can comply with internationally recognized human rights and environmental standards when carrying out their business operations. They will not only have to consider their own activities, but also the activities of their subsidiaries, suppliers and business partners. If need be, they will have to take action and submit reports. In addition, Swiss companies will also be liable for damage caused by companies that they control. However, they will not be held liable if they can prove that they complied with their due diligence obligations. Parliament has approved an indirect counter-proposal to the initiative, which also introduces new reporting and due diligence obligations. Any failures to comply would lead to fines being imposed. The counter-proposal will come into effect if the initiative is rejected, unless the counter-proposal itself is rejected in a referendum.

The vote on Sunday had been the source of much debate in Switzerland, and was the most expensive campaign in the country’s history, according to the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger.

Separately on Sunday, an initiative on the financing of weapon manufacturers also failed. The proposal would have prevented Swiss institutions, including the central bank, from investing in companies generating more than 5 percent of their revenue from the production of war materials.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Dems Threaten to Subpoena FTI Consulting Over 'Blanket Refusal' to Provide Info on Fossil Fuel Work

"FTI's refusal to cooperate with this congressional inquiry shows that they have something to hide, which will reveal the dangerous ways agencies like theirs have promoted fossil fuel greenwash and misinformation," said the Clean Creatives campaign's leader.

Jessica Corbett ·


US Judge Says Mar-a-Lago Affidavit 'Can Be Unsealed' With Redactions

"This is going to be a considered, careful process, where everybody's rights, the government's and the media's, will be protected," declared U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart.

Jessica Corbett ·


Federal Judge Orders Starbucks to Rehire Fired Union Organizers in Memphis

"It was a ruling in favor of what's right," said one member of the Memphis Seven. "We knew from day one that we were going to win this, it just took time."

Brett Wilkins ·


Activists Arrested While Protesting 'Dirty Pipeline Deal' Outside Schumer's Office

"Sen. Schumer is sacrificing frontline communities and our clean energy future, all to placate a coal baron," said one organizer, referring to the majority leader's side agreement with Sen. Joe Manchin.

Kenny Stancil ·


Ex-CFO Allen Weisselberg Pleads Guilty to 15 Felonies, Set to Testify Against Trump Organization

The former executive will serve only five months on Rikers Island if he testifies in the upcoming criminal trial of the business.

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo