The initiative has the potential to significantly extend liability for certain Swiss companies in relation to abuses of human and environmental rights.

By Paul A. Davies and Michael D. Green

Since 1891, Swiss citizens have been able to request changes to the Swiss constitution through popular initiatives. Currently, if an initiative is put forward by a group of at least seven citizens, and subsequently wins the support of 100,000 signatories within 18 months, a nationwide referendum is potentially triggered. However, before the referendum takes place, Swiss legislators may propose a compromise position to the initiative. This compromise proposal will become law if the initiative’s sponsors agree to it; otherwise, the original initiative is submitted for a national referendum.

The Responsible Business Initiative (KVI), put forth in 2016, is one such popular initiative. As currently worded, the KVI sets out due diligence requirements for Swiss-based companies with respect to environmental and human rights, both in Switzerland and abroad. Notably, it also proposes that Swiss-based companies be held liable for environmental and human rights harms caused anywhere within their global supply chain.

By Paul Davies and Michael Green

Six Portuguese children are raising funds to sue 47 European countries, asserting that their right to life has been threatened because governments have allegedly failed to adequately deal with climate change.

With the support of lawyers from the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), the children will ask nations in the suit to strengthen their emissions reduction policies, and to commit to keeping the majority of their existing fossil fuel reserves “in the ground”. The 47 countries targeted by the legal action are collectively responsible for approximately 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and include Europe’s “major emitters”, such as Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.

The children, who are between 5 and 14 years old, claim to have been directly affected by Portugal’s worst-ever forest fires in Leirria this summer, which resulted in more than 60 fatalities. Climate change is thought to have exacerbated the Iberian Peninsula’s extreme heatwave that extended the wildfire season from two months (July and August) to five months (June to October).

By Paul Davies and Michael Green

On March 27, 2017, the French Parliament adopted a Law On The Duty Of Vigilance For Parent And Subcontracting Companies. The law amends the Commerce Code and requires companies to establish and implement a plan for diligencing human rights, environmental, and health and safety issues in their supply chains.

The law is limited in scope. It applies to any company (an SA or SAS) that, at the end of two consecutive financial years, employs (i) at least five thousand employees within the company and its direct or indirect subsidiaries whose head offices are located in French territory, or that has (ii) at least ten thousand employees within its direct or indirect subsidiaries whose head offices are located in French territory or abroad.

Records suggest that some 243 entities employ more than 5000 employees in France (based on 2015 figures). Out of this number, it is estimated that only about 117 of them will be subject to the new requirements. The remainder, for now, fall outside of the scope of this new requirement (as they are partnerships or public bodies) Although some commentators had hoped for more companies to be included, it is likely that in due course this new law will be extended to others.