Corporate Responsibility Initiative: Not Just Black and White

FROM: Melchior Lengsfeld – 10. November 2020

The debate on the Corporate Responsibility Initiative often follows a black and white pattern. Organizations that support the initiative are often described as business-hostile. They are accused of having no idea about economic development in the global South. It’s time to correct this idea.

As one of the oldest and largest Swiss development organizations, Helvetas is deeply committed to the initiative - and has also been working closely with private companies for a long time. There are two main reasons why this is not a contradiction in terms.

Firstly, we know from decades of experience how important private sector involvement is for developing countries. Private sector is needed to effectively fight global poverty. Investments by local and international companies create income, jobs and innovation. A prerequisite for this, however, is that basic environmental and human rights standards are respected. This is usually the case - but unfortunately not always. We are aware of the collateral damages that some multinational corporations cause in Latin America, Africa or Asia, where, for example, rural communities are deprived of their lands with no compensations. In contrast, where companies and governments respect human rights and environmental standards, the private sector can make an enormous contribution to sustainable development. This is why Helvetas has been working closely with private companies for many years - both large, internationally active companies and SMEs both in Switzerland and in the partner countries.

The second important reason why we stand firmly behind the initiative is that we believe it will strengthen Switzerland as a business location. In Switzerland, companies must comply with binding rules. Companies that violate human rights and basic environmental standards abroad damage their reputation. Hundreds of entrepreneurs therefore actively support the Corporate Responsibility Initiative. Similar regulations are already in force in other European countries.

The initiative strengthens protections against blatant abuse and ensures that economic growth benefit everyone: companies, their employees and the environment. Therefore Helvetas supports a yes vote on November 29th for the Corporate Responsibility Initiative.

This text is extracted from the Guest commentary by Melchior Lengsfeld, Director Helvetas, published on Südostschweiz on 10 November 2020.

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