Switzerland – Trade

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

2.1 Pillar 1: state duty to protect


2.1.2 Operational principles: legislative and information policy measures

Measure 1: Rules on the export of war material and technologies for internet surveillance

The manufacture, brokerage, export and transit of war material for recipients abroad will be authorised if this is not contrary to international law, international obligations and the principles of Swiss foreign policy. The decision on whether or not to issue authorisation for a foreign transaction must abide by the criteria laid down in the War Material Ordinance. Among the domestic factors that inform this decision is whether the country of destination respects human rights. If the country of destination violates human rights in a systematic and serious manner, it is imperative that the export licence be denied. However, authorisation might still be granted in exceptional cases if there is a low risk that the exported war material will be used to commit serious violations of human rights.

Technologies for internet and mobile communication surveillance (goods, technology and software) can be used for both civilian and military purposes, i.e. they are dual-use goods. As such, they can be an element in state repression, thereby exposing the business enterprises that manufacture or trade in them to an increased risk of becoming involved in human rights abuses. The export or brokerage of technologies for internet and mobile communication surveillance is governed by the Ordonnance sur l’exportation et le courtage de biens destinés à la surveillance d’Internet et des communications mobiles (Ordinance on the export and brokerage of technologies for internet and mobile communications surveillance).15 A licence to export or to broker such goods must be refused if there is reason to believe that the exported or brokered good will be used by the final recipient as a means of repression.

Objective Indicator Responsibility
Implement legal provisions on the transfer of controlled goods with a view to ensuring that international law and, in particular, human rights are respected. Report on Federal Council activities to the parliamentary Control Committees detailing exports of war material, and the foreign economic policy report that includes an appendix listing all goods exported under the Goods Control Act. EAER [Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research] 


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

At the end of 2018, the Federal Council adopted a report setting out a range of measures designed to improve the traceability of gold imported to Switzerland, strengthen multi-stakeholder dialogue and expand development cooperation on responsible gold production.21

The measures aim to improve the collection and publication of information on the sources of gold imported in Switzerland, and increase transparency not only regarding the risk assessments conducted by the industry but also regarding its human rights due diligence. The federal government will take steps to promote best practices and examine the possible use of blockchain technologies to improve traceability in the gold industry.

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.

Objective Indicator Responsibility
Prevent human rights risks associated with gold extraction and trading. A number of recommendations in the Federal Council Report on gold trading and human rights have been implemented. FDFA [Federal Department of Foreign Affairs],

FDF [Federal Department of Finance],

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

FDHA [Federal Department of Home Affairs].


2.1.4 Business respect for human rights in conflict-affected areas

Measure 15: Economic sanctions

The Federal Act on the Implementation of International Sanctions (Embargo Act, EmbA) provides that Switzerland may apply non-military sanctions imposed by the UN, the OSCE and Switzerland’s major trading partners for the purpose of complying with international law and, in particular, upholding human rights. The Embargo Act itself does not refer to specific sanctions as such, but provides the legal framework for the Federal Council to adopt ordinances on the imposition of sanctions. Sanctions may include restrictions or prohibitions on the trade in goods, services, payments, capital and the movement of people. Sanctions policy strategy is based on the principles laid down in Switzerland’s foreign policy and foreign economic policy.

Objective Indicator Responsibility
Contribute to ensuring compliance with international law, in particular human rights, through the implementation of economic sanctions. The list of current sanctions shows that UN Security Council sanctions are implemented fully and systematically. The Federal Council also decides, having duly considered the interests involved in the particular circumstances, to join the sanctions imposed by its main trading partners, especially the European Union. EAER [Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research]


2.1.5 Policy coherence

Guiding Principle 9

The federal government enters into economic agreements with other States or with business enterprises. They include bilateral investment promotion and protection agreements, free trade agreements and agreements governing investment projects. The federal government should ensure that these agreements provide sufficient domestic policy scope to fulfil the human rights obligations of both Switzerland and the contracting partner.

As part of its commitment to upholding human rights, the Federal Council should ensure that provisions to achieve coherence are included in agreements. The provisions should provide contracting partners with sufficient scope to fulfil their human rights obligations. The federal government also supports projects specifically designed to foster respect for human rights among business enterprises in partner countries.


Measure 18: Consistency between trade agreements and protection of human rights

The primary aim of free trade agreements is to foster bilateral trade relations and increase the economic competitiveness of contracting states. In negotiating free trade agreements (and investment promotion and protection agreements; see below), Switzerland is committed to ensuring that provisions to achieve consistency between trade and sustainable development are included. These serve to underline the parties’ obligation to comply with the applicable multilateral environmental agreements and ILO conventions, and to implement them effectively. They also refer to international instruments to protect human rights, and the principles of responsible corporate governance. Swiss free trade agreements also contain provisions stipulating that the agreement should not impede or compromise existing obligations under international law, including in respect of human rights. Free trade agreements are monitored by joint committees. Civil society contributes to the preparatory work for joint committee meetings, specifically through the WTO/FTA liaison group. The Federal Council continues to monitor and conduct impact assessments regarding international developments on human rights due diligence in trade agreements.

In the interests of policy coherence, Switzerland also advocates the inclusion of consistency provisions when negotiating investment protection agreements (IPAs). The federal government drafted provisions to achieve greater consistency between IPAs and sustainable development objectives (e.g. provisions setting out the right to regulate; references to human rights and corporate social responsibility in the recitals to IPAs). These provisions underline the importance of interpreting and applying these agreements in a manner that is consistent with other international commitments undertaken by Switzerland and its partner countries, including those on human rights protection.

Objective Indicator Responsibility
Improve consistency between Switzerland’s trade agreements and respect for human rights. Human rights references, corporate social responsibility and the right to regulate are incorporated into trade agreements (FTAs/IPAs) submitted to parliament.
The subject is discussed by the WTO/FTA liaison group.
EAER [Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research]