What is the public’s opinion when it comes to the responsibility of Swiss companies abroad? ETH researchers have investigated this question and are able to show that there is a great deal of support for the so-called Responsible Business Initiative.
In just over two weeks, the National Council and the Council of States will jointly discuss the Responsible Business Initiative. The issue at stake is whether companies with headquarters, head offices or main branches in Switzerland should be legally required to comply with human rights and environmental standards in their business activities at home and abroad; and whether they should be held accountable in Swiss courts for any future damage abroad they might cause. This latter point will be a key issue when the Federal Assembly decides on a counter-proposal to the initiative.
A study by political scientists at ETH Zurich has shed light on Swiss attitudes to the global responsibility of companies towards people and the environment. In November 2018, a team led by Thomas Bernauer, ETH Professor of Political Science, interviewed more than 3,000 Swiss citizens on the subject. Bernauer and his team examined the interaction of voluntary and government-imposed measures in environmental policy both in Switzerland and abroad.
About 70 to 80 percent of the ecological footprint created by consumption in Switzerland is borne by foreign countries, where many of the goods consumed here are produced. “What interests us about the Responsible Business Initiative is the extent to which Swiss citizens support stronger environmental and social regulation of the business activities of Swiss companies abroad,” says Bernauer, “and whether voluntary measures by the private sector could mitigate political demands for more state regulation in this field.”