Switzerland – Guidance to business

2 National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights 2020-23

2.1 Pillar 1: state duty to protect


Guiding Principles 1 to 3 

2.1.2 Operational principles: legislative and information policy measures

Measure 2: Security and human rights

Switzerland is a member of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights initiative and contributes to its development. This initiative is targeted at companies in the extractive sector and offers them guidance on maintaining the safety and security of their operations within a framework that ensures respect for human rights, especially when private and/or public security providers are also involved. Switzerland is an active member of the Steering Committee and assumes the chair on a rotating basis. It is also committed to the application of the Voluntary Principles in the field and works to expand membership of the initiative.


Measure 3: Promotion of UN Guiding Principles

The Federal Council will develop a business and human rights communications strategy  that promotes the UN Guiding Principles and sets out in clear terms what it expects from companies and management in this regard.

– awareness-raising efforts (incl. a website, workshops, webinars, presentations, publications);

– a platform for dialogue and the sharing of best practices (see Measure 26 below);

– communication with Swiss representations abroad;

– communication with the general public through articles, newspaper columns, company profiles, expert analyses and interviews;

– participation in forums for dialogue, particularly on commodities, alongside representatives from the cantons, the private sector, NGOs and the research community.


Measure 4: Geneva Center for Business and Human Rights

The Geneva Center for Business and Human Rights was established in 2019. Its mission is to educate future business leaders on human rights issues, provide a focus for rapidly changing political and trade discussions on the subject, and bolster Geneva’s status as the human rights capital. The centre, which will benefit from federal government support, carries out research on the human rights challenges faced by the corporate sector and fosters collaboration between academia and industry to gain new insights and advance existing knowledge on the subject.

Objective Indicator Responsibility
Support research and academic input on the subject of business and human rights. Research published by the centre that offers solutions (business models) for companies in ensuring respect for human rights. FDFA [Federal Department of Foreign Affairs],



 Measure 6: Business enterprises and human rights defenders

Companies should take on board the concerns of stakeholders, including human rights defenders, who may be affected by their activities. They also should not obstruct the legitimate and peaceful work of HRDs. Business enterprises can contribute to protecting human rights defenders by raising the matter with the authorities. As part of its State duty to protect, Switzerland supports the work of HRDs and is committed to ensuring that they are protected against unfair treatment, threats and violence, including abuses committed by private companies. The FDFA’s guidelines on human rights defenders are intended to raise awareness among Swiss representations abroad about their role and the resources available to them.


Measure 7: Reduction in human rights risks associated with gold extraction and trading

Switzerland will continue to support the implementation of OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas and other relevant guidelines. As recommended in the above report, it will explore the possibility of granting the Central Office for Precious Metals Control wider responsibilities, including with respect to transparency on the provenance of gold imported to Switzerland.


Measure 8: Human rights in tourism

The federal government supports the Roundtable on Human Rights in Tourism assessment of human rights impacts along the tourism value chain. This project, which will initially focus on Thailand, adopts a multi-stakeholder approach and seeks to develop practical guidelines for the tourism industry as a whole.


2.1.3 The State-business nexus

Guiding Principles 4 to 5

Given the federal government’s direct influence on the activities of federal government-associated businesses, it has a particular obligation to ensure that these companies respect human rights, for example by conducting human rights due diligence. It also expects federal government-associated businesses to have in place human rights best practices.

Measure 9: Human rights due diligence by federal government-associated businesses

The Federal Council defines its strategic goals for federal government-associated businesses every four years and expects these companies to pursue a sustainable corporate strategy to the best of their business ability. As regards the protection of human rights, a number of these businesses already exercise due diligence and document these efforts in their reporting.

To advance the implementation of UN Guiding Principles by federal government-associated businesses, interdepartmental coordination must be stepped up. Failure by these entities to meet international standards on human rights due diligence could pose a reputational risk to the federal government. The Federal Council therefore intends to assist federal government-associated businesses in playing a lead role by raising awareness of human rights due diligence and promoting the exchange of best practices, particularly with regard to risk management, monitoring and public reporting. This optional measure is geared primarily towards federal government-associated businesses which work with suppliers and business partners abroad.

The federal government may also run optional training sessions on UN Guiding Principles and human rights due diligence for the members of boards of directors and senior management of federal government-associated businesses.

Objective Indicator Responsibility
Assist federal government-associated businesses in taking a lead role and encourage them to put in place human rights due diligence procedures. Examples of human rights due diligence exercised by federal government-associated businesses.

At least one training session held for federal government-associated businesses.

FDFA [Federal Department of Foreign Affairs],

DETEC [Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications],

EAER [Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research].


Guiding Principle 6

The federal government is committed to ensuring that the value chains of goods purchased by the public sector are free of human rights abuses. It promotes respect for human rights by business enterprises with which they conduct commercial transactions.

Measure 13: Guidelines on human rights due diligence in conflict-affected and high-risk areas

Guidelines on human rights due diligence in conflict-affected and high-risk areas have been drawn up at international level and adopted by various OECD members. The Federal Council works at international level to advance the development, promotion and implementation of global standards. Switzerland also supports the implementation of the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas. It is also a member of the multi-stakeholder group that manages the implementation, dissemination and continued development of these guidelines. The OECD Due Diligence Guidance is aimed primarily at companies involved in the extraction and trading of commodities in conflict-affected and high-risk areas, but it also applies to manufacturers of products containing minerals which operate in the downstream value chain and are required to exercise due diligence.

In addition, the federal government supports a project led by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights that aims to clarify the practical steps that companies, investors and States should take to prevent and combat business-related human rights abuses in conflict, post-conflict and fragile contexts.

The EU adopted Regulation 2017/821 of 17 May 2017 laying down supply chain due diligence obligations for Union importers of tin, tantalum and tungsten, their ores, and gold originating from conflict-affected and high-risk areas. The relevant provisions will take effect on 1 January 2021. In accordance with the Federal Council decision of 14 August 2019, the FDJP is mandated to examine the introduction of a mandatory due diligence in the area of “minerals from conflict areas”. In the meantime, on 18 December 2019, the Council of States adopted a regulation on this issue as part of the preparation of an indirect counter-proposal to the popular initiative for responsible businesses. The National Council has not yet commented on this. The Federal Council is of the opinion that it should await the end of the parliamentary debates.

Objective Indicator Responsibility
Develop, promote and implement specific guidelines in respect of high-risk, conflict-affected areas.

Explore possible measures that are consistent with international rules, including a bill to be submitted for consultation.

Example of the federal government’s contribution to organisations developing these guidelines. FDFA [Federal Department of Foreign Affairs],

EAER [Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research],

FDJP [Federal Department of Justice and Police].


2.1.5 Policy coherence

Guiding Principle 10

Measure 22: Commitments by Switzerland to the UN Guiding Principles at multilateral level

Within the ILO, Switzerland supports the follow-up to the 2016 ILO Resolution on the UN Guiding Principles and global supply chains. It also comments on violations of fundamental rights at work committed by other ILO member states. In 2019, Switzerland declared that it was in favour of adopting the ‘ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work’ which puts workers’ rights and the needs, aspirations and rights of all people at the heart of economic, social and environmental policies. The federal government also promotes the recommendations of the ILO’s Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy. These activities are part of efforts to promote the NAP and provide business enterprises with guidance on compliance with labour standards.


2.2 Pillar 2: the corporate responsibility to respect human rights

In promoting the UN Guiding Principles at national and international levels, the federal government seeks to create the right framework conditions for business enterprises to implement the principles, and to support them during this process. By respecting human rights, Swiss companies can consolidate their international standing over the long term as responsible and competitive players. The Federal Council therefore helps companies to meet their human rights responsibilities.


2.2.2 Operational principles: human rights due diligence

Guiding Principles 16 to 21

Measure 24: Support for industry initiatives

The federal government will step up cooperation with industry initiatives, associations and chambers of commerce which promote the UN Guiding Principles, and support action taken by businesses to uphold human rights. This will involve identifying initiatives and actors which have the potential to substantially further the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles by businesses. Priority will be given to initiatives that contribute to due diligence training for business enterprises or that are developing practical and effective human rights tools for SMEs. All tools developed as part of initiatives supported and recognised under the NAP will be made available to the businesses online.

Objective Indicator Responsibility
Support and work with business enterprises on solutions to facilitate the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles. Federal government cooperation with an industry initiative to develop a human rights tool. FDFA [Federal Department of Foreign Affairs],

EAER [Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research]


Measure 25: Promotion of ILO Helpdesk for Business

The ILO Helpdesk for Business is a valuable resource for company managers and workers seeking information on how to better align their business operations with international labour standards and build good industrial relations. The ILO Helpdesk provides information in response to specific questions and has a website featuring ILO tools and business-specific resources. Specific queries on applying international labour standards in company operations can be sent by email directly to the ILO. Employers’ organisations and individual companies can also use the free and confidential service provided by the ILO Helpdesk for Business. The responses are prepared by an ILO expert team based on the various ILO standards, strategy documents and tools.

Objective Indicator Responsibility
Promote the use of the ILO Helpdesk for queries regarding the application of international labour standards. The number of queries submitted to the ILO Helpdesk and the volume of website traffic to its website (source: ILO Annual Report on the services provided by the Helpdesk). EAER [Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research]


Measure 26: Promotion of best practices

The federal government intends to hold a Swiss Business and Human Rights Forum as part of its efforts to encourage and promote human rights best practices among businesses. The forum will provide stakeholders with a platform to discuss trends and challenges in implementing the UN Guiding Principles and foster dialogue and cooperation, particularly on the operational challenges faced by certain sectors. The forum will also help identify best practices for SMEs. In addition to these activities, the federal government will explore the option of creating a Swiss Business and Human Rights Award for business enterprises that have made an outstanding contribution to protecting human rights.

Objective Indicator Responsibility
Promote human rights best practices among business enterprises. Launch the Swiss Business and Human Rights Forum. Number of participating businesses. FDFA [Federal Department of Foreign Affairs],

EAER [Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research]


Measure 30: Guides and tools to implement the UN Guiding Principles

Most business enterprises use certification and private labels (e.g. UTZ, Fairtrade, and amfori/BSCI) as a means of ensuring compliance with social and environmental standards along the entire value chain. The federal government intends to help businesses identify which certifications meet the human rights due diligence standards under the UN Guiding Principles.

In response to Recommendation 11 of the Background Report on Commodities, the Swiss government worked with a multi-stakeholder group (cantons, civil society and the private sector) to draw up a best practice guide for the commodity sector. ‘The Commodity Sector – Guidance on Implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights’, which was published in November 2018, provides companies working in this sector with practical advice on exercising due diligence along their value chains. Measures, including awareness-raising events and practical workshops, will be put in place to disseminate and promote its application.

The OECD has also produced a series of guidelines for companies that contain practical recommendations on the adoption of due diligence along their value chains. In May 2018, it published guidance for companies of all sizes that are exposed to risks in their value chains, irrespective of the sector within which they operate. Other guidelines are aimed at specific sectors such as the agricultural, financial and textile sectors.

Many international guides and tools are already available. The federal government will explore the possibility of translating some of these into the national languages to enable them to be adapted and implemented in Switzerland. The complex nature of these guides means that some companies, especially SMEs, may find it difficult to put them into practice. Easy-to-use online interactive tools could provide a starting point for SMEs. The Swiss government will develop instruments that enable SMEs to carry out risk assessments and identify measures. They also could provide the basis for an assessment of the action needed to improve human rights due diligence.