Many Swiss people do not think it is acceptable that Swiss companies abroad commit, help to commit, look the other way or tolerate, human rights violations, even by their local suppliers.
It is not enough that this or that high profile consumer goods company or computer of mobile phone multinational, or any other company, declare “we will do this or that to protect human rights”. It is not enough because we know the stock market pressure everywhere prevails over human rights. A legal wall may be necessary, but it is legitimate to debate the human and material benefits and costs of such action.
The difference between Switzerland and other advanced countries is that in Switzerland, the people have the real hard decision-making power to act and make their will the law, regardless of what the politicians think; the rest of us in all representative democracies can not
In the case of this Swiss popular initiative to fight for human rights, what triggered it was the rejection by the Swiss parliament of the proposal made earlier by some minority parties there represented.
This is one of the great aspects of Swiss direct democracy; if a minority is convinced they have a proposal representing the concerns of the majority of the Swiss people, even if the majority parties may reject it, they can go outside parliament and have the people decide.
Any Swiss citizen or group can do that; they can take any issue to the citizens, even if no party brought it up in parliament.
Because the Swiss Executive and Parliament rejected the minority party proposal, 77 civil organizations got together and launched the “Responsible Business Initiative.”
The goal of the Initiative is to hold Swiss companies responsible, before Swiss justice for human rights and environmental violations abroad committed by them or by their local supplies.
The initiative has the support of organisations dedicated to fighting human rights abuses but also of churches, unions, and even some business.
One could say the initiative has been proposed by “leftist” groups, although Swiss churches are non-political. That is not the point, the point is that ordinary Swiss citizens, of the “left”, “right” or “center”, even if they do not belong to any organization can put their concerns before the voters.
But Switzerland would not be Switzerland if it did not do things in an orderly manner. In Switzerland people just don’t take to the streets, demonstrate or riot about something and, when the issue is “hot”, put it to a referendum, or scare the politicians into rash action.
This is how the Swiss do it, and did, in this case; the proponents gathered the required 100 000 signatures. They had 18 months to do it. The rules require a relatively low number of signatures (Switzerland has 8.5 million people), and 18 months is ample time to gather them.
The proponents of the Responsible Business Initiative then presented the initiative to the Swiss government.
The Executive and both chambers of the Swiss parliament examined it. They could not kill the initiative, the law does not allow for that, but they could make a counterproposal to its proponents, which they did.
The proponents of the initiative felt the counter-proposal presented by the government did not address some of their key concerns.
The next step is for the proposal will go to a national referendum.
They also organise the referendum in a fair, orderly manner; all Swiss potential voters receive an information package containing the proposal, the counter-proposal, and the arguments of both sides. The political parties also present their arguments for or against.
There is also ample debate in the media, even among families and friends. Business groups, unions, and others present their arguments in articles, debates, etc.
This elaborate process allows the voters to be reasonably well informed when they go to vote.
That moment has now arrived; in a few days, on November 29, 2020, the voters will decide.
In representative democracies, the people never decide these issues; the politicians decide and that is no longer enough.
Direct democracy is better for many reasons. One of them is that in representative democracies the lobbies, the hiper-rich, and the “influencers” exert a lot of direct and indirect pressure on politicians. In the Swiss system, it does not really matter much if you pressure the politicians in private meetings because it is the people who make the final decision.
Should you not be able to do what the Swiss people do?