Canadian company’s operations in Colombia could be impacted by Swiss vote on responsible business on November 29

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Swiss citizens will soon be voting in a referendum on a popular initiative known as the Responsible Business Initiative. A survey conducted in May shows that 78 per cent of eligible voters would vote in favour of this initiative.

How might this relate to a Canadian company?

As noted on page 33 of this Toronto-based Frontera Energy Corporation report, Frontera Energy Colombia AG (Switzerland), based in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, “holds the Company’s interest in its main operational Colombian branch.”

Concerns about the Frontera’s responsibility for social and environmental harms in San Luis de Palenque, Casanare, along with the criminalization of eight social leaders who protested against the company, were noted in this report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

The Swiss digital financial news platform Allnews recently reported: “[The initiative], put to the vote on November 29, aims to ensure that large Swiss groups respect human rights and the environment abroad. It would give anyone who has suffered damage by a multinational headquartered in Switzerland the opportunity to seek compensation from the Swiss jurisdiction.”

And NZZamSonntag adds: “The proponents are currently ahead. The initiative committee made up of aid agencies and human rights organizations has been mobilizing its supporters for months. More than 60,000 people have ordered one of the orange flags that are now hanging on windows and facades in towns and villages.”

Solidar Suisse further explains: “Under the Responsible Business Initiative, Swiss based companies will be legally obliged to incorporate respect for human rights and the environment in all their business activities. This mandatory due diligence will also be applied to Swiss based companies’ activities abroad.”

“The mandatory due diligence instrument is based on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”

“According to these principles, companies must first review all their business relationships and activities with a view to identifying potential risks to people and the environment. They must then take effective measures to address the potentially negative impacts identified. As a third step, companies are required to report in a transparent manner on the violations identified, as well as on the related measures taken.”

“Although these provisions already exist in international soft law, they lack enforcement mechanisms to facilitate effective implementation. The UN leaves it to its member states to fill the existing gaps at national level.”

Solidar Suisse adds: “The Responsible Business Initiative translates this obligation in Swiss law, renders the international due diligence mandatory and broadens the scope of mandatory due diligence by including the protection of the environment.”

Peace Brigades International is a supporting member organization of the Swiss Coalition for Corporate Justice which is backing the Responsible Business Initiative.

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