EXPLAINED: What’s at stake in Switzerland's November referendums?

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EXPLAINED: What’s at stake in Switzerland's November referendums?
Swiss voters will weigh in on two issues on November 29th. Photo by AFP

Switzerland’s voters will go to the polls on November 29th to decide on two popular initiatives. Here's the issues to be decided.


Just two months after Switzerland posed five questions to the populace - including a bid to restrict migration - Swiss voters will again go to the polls. 

This time, two issues are on the ticket. 

‘The Responsible Business Initiative’

What is this about?

According to the portal of the Federal Council, “Swiss companies are expected to uphold human rights and comply with environmental standards, not just in Switzerland but also when doing business abroad”.

However, the authors of this initiative, a coalition of human rights and environmental organisations, argue that these measures don’t go far enough.

READ: Switzerland makes 400 million francs available for coronavirus vaccine 

The initiative seeks to force Swiss companies to examine whether they, as well as their subsidiaries and business partners, can comply with internationally-recognised human rights and environmental standards.

Unless they can prove that they followed all the required norms, companies will be liable for damage they caused - whether to humans or the environment.

READ: Everything you need to know about Switzerland's 'corporate responsibility' referendum 

What is the government’s position?

For the Federal Council and the parliament, “the initiative goes too far, in particular regarding the rules on liability”.

They say that to be effective, this measure must be coordinated at the international level.

READ MORE: Swiss activists launch referendum bid against Covid-19 measures


Initiative ‘For a ban on financing war material manufacturers’

What is this about?

Swiss companies produce weapons, or parts for weapons, while Swiss investors finance war material manufacturers both locally and abroad. 

In Switzerland, the arms industry is subject to strict regulations, and a licence is required to manufacture and export. Nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, cluster munitions and anti-personnel mines are banned; they may neither be manufactured nor traded. And it is also illegal to fund the production of such weapons.

The initiative committee, composed of an organisation called ‘Switzerland without an Army’, along with left-leaning groups and political parties, wants to ban the financing of all arms manufacture.

It also wants to prohibit loans to arms manufacturers, making it illegal to hold shares in such companies or to invest in funds that contain their shares. 



READ: Everything you need to know about Switzerland's referendum to ban military exports 

What is the government’s position?

According to the Federal Council and the parliament, “the initiative clearly goes too far and will not prevent wars”.

And since the production of war materials serves to finance social programs, they argue that such a ban would affect various foundations, the state old-age and invalidity pension schemes, and other pension funds.

The economic effects of this measure “would be felt not only by arms manufacturers, but also by their suppliers, which include many small and medium-sized businesses”.

The Federal Council and the parliament recommend that voters reject both initiatives.





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Anonymous 2020/11/28 22:02
The term is ‘war materiel’.

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