Rarely has such a communication war animated a campaign preceding yet another “vote” within the Swiss Confederation. Orange banners of supporters on apartment balconies, full pages of advertising from opponents in the major daily newspapers in Zurich and Geneva, saturation of social networks, and massive spam in electronic mail: Sunday, November 29, Swiss citizens will have to say if they accept an “initiative for responsible multinationals”, supported by the left and opposed by the employers and the main right-wing parties, with the exception of the PDC (Christian Democrat), which is divided on the issue.
The text requires that Swiss companies active abroad are now also responsible for their acts before the Swiss courts. The campaign argument mentions the main firms targeted. “Glencore pollutes rivers in Congo and the air in Zambia, the multinational cement LafargeHolcim endangers human health in Nigeria with its fine particles and the Basel multinational Syngenta sells deadly pesticides long banned from us. Constantly, multinationals violate human rights and ignore minimum environmental standards. They have nothing to fear, because poor countries rarely have a functioning rule of law. “
Even a decade ago, a text formulated in such a radical way would never have had the slightest chance at the polls. However, times are changing, and Swiss public opinion, without tilting to the left, has been refocusing in recent years which makes it more sensitive to green themes, starting with the environment. The particularly advantageous tax conditions enjoyed by multinationals – which often only house their financial divisions and a few hundred senior executives in Switzerland – are beginning to tire the population, which adheres less to the argument that their establishment would benefit the whole economy by the grace of “runoff”.
A little shaken by the popularity of the initiative, the giants concerned are fighting to accredit the idea that their influence is beneficial. Like the South African Ivan Glasenberg, the boss of the Glencore mining group, located in the canton of Zug, a tax haven. Friday, November 13, in a river interview at the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the liberal organ of Swiss business circles, this man who never speaks to the media came out of the shadows to assert: “I am convinced that we are doing good for the poorest countries. “
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