Switzerland – Policy Coherence

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

Swiss legislation does not require companies to carry out human rights due diligence. In response to the popular initiative ‘Responsible Business – Protecting Human Rights and the Environment’, the Federal Council proposed submitting it to the people (referendum), without a counter-proposal. It advised voters to reject the initiative, explaining that it prefers a coordinated approach at the international level and the use of existing instruments, specifically the national action plans on the subjects covered by the popular initiative (NAP on Business and Human Rights, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Action Plan and the ‘Green Economy’ report). On 14 June 2018, the National Council tabled an indirect counter-proposal, which is still being debated in parliament. The Federal Council is monitoring the debates, as well as international developments, emerging legislative trends on corporate human rights due diligence and the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles by businesses. Of particular interest are legislative changes in the EU regarding the mandatory reporting of non-financial information. Measure 13 of the 2020–23 CSR Action Plan provides for the development of a consultation draft on sustainability reporting based on the EU directive.


Measure 3: Promotion of UN Guiding Principles

The Federal Council will develop a business and human rights communications strategy18 that promotes the UN Guiding Principles and sets out in clear terms what it expects from companies and management in this regard. The strategy will comprise:

– 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.

This communication strategy aims to raise awareness and advance the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles by the Federal Administration (policy coherence), the business community and the general public.

Objective Indicator Responsibility
Improve knowledge and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles. Number of participants at awareness-raising and other events.

A review of the NAP finds improved awareness and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles among business enterprises (cf. measure 23).

FDFA [Federal Department of Foreign Affairs],

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


 Measure 5: Multi-stakeholder initiatives on business and human rights

Many multi-stakeholder initiatives on business and human rights are already under way. The federal government plays an active and major part in several of them, such as the ICoC Association and the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

The federal government works with international sports bodies based in Switzerland (including the International Olympic Committee), with sponsors, NGOs, international organisations and other governments to implement the UN Guiding Principles in the context of major sporting events and in sport generally. It also launched a multi-stakeholder dialogue which culminated, in 2018, in the creation of the Centre for Sport and Human Rights. The mission of the Geneva-based centre is to prevent, mitigate and ensure effective remedies for sports-related human rights abuses. The FDFA will support this initiative in coordination with the Federal Office of Sport.

The federal government also backs multi-stakeholder initiatives that focus on human rights issues in sectors such as textiles, cocoa and gold. As these initiatives cover other subjects such as corruption and the environment, they are dealt with in Measure 10 of the 2020–23 CSR Action Plan.

Objective Indicator Responsibility
Support multi-stakeholder initiatives on business and human rights Federal government support for at least two projects launched as part of multi-stakeholder initiatives. FDFA [Federal Department of Foreign Affairs],

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


2.1.5 Policy coherence

Guiding Principle 8

Under Guiding Principle 8 the federal authorities and other public bodies must, in fulfilling their respective mandates, be aware of the State’s human rights obligations, and to support such obligations by way of relevant information and training.


Measure 16: Interdepartmental cooperation

As laid down in the 2020–23 CSR Action Plan, the federal government has created an interdepartmental working group on corporate social responsibility. Members are drawn from the federal offices involved in national CSR action plans and strategies. The group meets regularly to discuss and coordinate their CSR-related activities. It also investigates conflicts of interest and structures policy debate with a view to ensuring that the UN Guiding Principles are implemented consistently across the Federal Administration.

The federal government has also established an International Human Rights Policy Core Group (KIM). It functions as an interdepartmental information exchange platform and its members are drawn from the federal offices in charge of international human rights conventions. The group also receives regular briefings on NAP-related activities.

The Interdepartmental Platform on Commodities identifies and promotes synergies between sectoral policies and monitors national and international developments in the commodities sector.

The outcomes of this interdepartmental cooperation are also reflected in the consistent position which the representatives of all Departments adopt during bilateral consultations with other States, in multilateral bodies and in their public statements.

Objective Indicator Responsibility
Improve policy coherence at federal level.


Inclusion of the NAP in federal government CSR strategies and reports.

Number of meetings held by the various interdepartmental platforms and groups.

Consistent public position by the representatives of all Departments.

FDFA [Federal Department of Foreign Affairs],

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


Guiding Principle 9

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]


2.3.2 Operational principles: state judicial mechanisms

Guiding Principle 26

Measure 31: Promoting the option of collective redress

In the process of revising the CPC [Civil Procedure Code], the federal government drafted amendments to the provisions governing costs with a view to extending the scope of the conciliation procedure. New rules on group actions and establishing a group settlement mechanism will close a gap in the available legal protection by facilitating class actions in respect of mass and dispersed damage claims. These amendments and new articles bring the draft bill in line with Business and Human Rights Recommendations 39 and 42 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe of 2 March 2016.54 They also meet the expectations of the UN, as expressed in Guiding Principle 26.