The private sector should pull its weight in efforts to fight poverty and promote sustainable development, as stipulated in the UN 2030 Agenda. A great many businesses are now committed to operating in a socially and ecologically responsible manner and embrace a sustainable business model. They constitute a pool of potential partners for joint development efforts. But many big multinational corporations still optimize profits at the expense of the local population and the environment. They hardly show any regard for human rights issues or international environmental standards, and they transfer profits to their headquarters in the North.
Mandatory protection of human rights
Along with over 80 other Swiss non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Helvetas supports the Responsible Business Initiative. The objective/aim of this popular initiative is to require businesses to incorporate the protection of human rights and the environment into all business processes. This mandatory due diligence also applies to business conducted abroad by companies domiciled in Switzerland. Furthermore, parent companies should be held liable for damages or losses caused by their subsidiaries or other companies they control abroad – though only insofar as they have failed to exercise all appropriate measures of due diligence. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are, as a rule, exempt from the initiative, unless they are operating in a risk sector such as the commodity trade.
The initiative is intended to finally put a stop to reckless business practices at the expense of people and the environment. For those who put their business interests before honest, socially and ecologically responsible dealings are still profiting today. The initiative will create more justice for those companies who already today operate in a responsible manner.. And it ensures that due diligence with regard to risks to the environment and human rights will not remain merely a matter of individual conscience, but will become general business practice.