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Human rights policy in Swiss companies: an overview

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A new study examines how many Swiss corporations have a comprehensive and transparent human rights policy that also applies to its subsidiaries and suppliers. Published by Bread for All and Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund, the report "Human Rights policy in Swiss companies: an overview" presents a research carried out through a two-phases process combining quantitative and qualitative approaches and reaching up to over 200 Swiss corporations.

The study mainly concludes that few corporations take the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) seriously and that, though good practices are found on human rights policies, there is still much to be done.

Quantitative research: only 11% of companies subscribes to the UNGPs

This first stage analysed 200 Swiss corporations, including the 100 largest publicly traded companies and the 100 largest privately held companies. The aim was to identify if these companies were provided with a human rights policy and if this is subject to a transparency and disclosure procedure.

The conclusions of this phase were sober:

  •  61.5 percent of the 200 corporations examined do not publish any reference to a human rights policy. There is neither information about due diligence as required by the UN Guiding Principles nor a code of conduct that addresses compliance with human rights standards with regards to subsidiaries or uppliers.
  •  27.5 percent of the companies publish a code of conduct for their firms and for business relations with important suppliers.
  •  Only 11 percent of the businesses examined subscribe to the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Besides, 8 of 22 companies with a comprehensive human rights policy are subsidiaries of foreign corporations. That leaves only 14 companies headquartered in Switzerland that have independent human rights policies modelled after the UN Guiding Principles.
  •  Publicly traded companies are more likely to have binding policies than privately held businesses: 19 of 22 corporations that had comprehensive human rights policies were traded on the stock exchange.

Qualitative research

In the second phase, the human rights policies of 14 firms that have recognized the UN Guiding Principles were subject to a qualitative analysis. This included an assessment on how the required human rights due diligence (HRDD) was implemented in practice.

Some of the conclusions arrived to through this analysis include:

  •  The human rights aspect is generally weighted less highly than diligence towards money laundering, corruption, or competition rules.
  •  None of the corporations cited respect for human rights as a declared annual goal. Also, premiums or bonuses for staff do not depend on how well due diligence measures are adhered to.
  •  In designing or implementing these policies, only five companies have sought assistance from research institutes or non-governmental organisations.
  •  Nine companies have begun to do Human Rights Impact Assessments (HRIAs) for projects or in individual countries. But the approaches and the quality of these analyses vary greatly and only a few document the results in a comprehensive and transparent manner.
  •  Corporate reporting on their human rights policies remains insufficient and is not particularly transparent.

You can have full acess to the Study in the Bread for All Website and in the SCCJ Website.

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