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.