Corporate social responsibility (CSR) means that companies are responsible for the effects of their activities on society and the environment. The Swiss Confederation understands CSR to be a contribution to sustainable development made by companies.
CSR covers a wide range of aspects that must be taken into account when managing a company, including working conditions (including occupational health), human rights, environment, anti-corruption measures, fair competition, consumer interests, taxes, transparency, etc. To implement CSR, companies need to take stakeholder interests into account (e.g. shareholders, employees, consumers, local communities and NGOs).
CSR assumes compliance with laws and social partnerships. Society's expectations, which may go beyond legal obligations, are also to be considered. The Swiss Confederation expects companies based or operating in Switzerland to take responsibility for all of the activities they perform there or abroad in accordance with internationally recognised CSR standards and guidelines.
A consistent and broad implementation of CSR plays a key role in improving sustainable development and providing solutions to social challenges. It can also considerably improve companies’ competitive position.
Various terms are used in Switzerland to refer to CSR. Companies use e.g. corporate social responsibility (CSR), corporate responsibility (CR), responsible business conduct or corporate sustainability.
Position Paper and action Plan of the Federal Council
On 15 January 2020 the Federal Council adopted the revised CSR Action Plan 2020-2023. It thus confirms its commitment to responsible business conduct.
On 1 April 2015, the Swiss Federal Council adopted a Position paper and Action Plan on corporate social responsibility. It was prepared as part of an interdepartmental process under the aegis of SECO and based on a consultation between the various stakeholders. It has two main goals: 1. Informing companies and their stakeholders about the federal government’s goals and expectations as regards CSR; 2. Providing an overview of the government’s current and future CSR-related activities.
Obligation to report on non-financial matters and to exercise due diligence with regard to conflict minerals and child labour
On 29 November 2020, the popular initiative “Responsible business – to protect human rights and the environment" has been rejected. This means that the indirect counter-proposal of the Parliament applies, which provides for the following new provisions in the Code of Obligations for companies:
- Obligation to report on non-financial matters: Large public companies and financial institutions must report on environmental and labour issues, human rights and the fight against corruption in a similar way to EU Directive 2014/95/EU. This includes reporting on material risks, measures and their effectiveness or the reasons why no such concept is followed (the so-called comply or explain concept). If the report is based on national, European or international standards such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, these must be mentioned in the report. The report must be approved by the highest management or administrative body and by the body responsible for approving the annual accounts.
- Obligation to exercise due diligence and to report with regard to conflict minerals and child labour: Similar to the EU Regulation (EU)2017/821, an obligation to exercise due diligence and to report is introduced for companies that import minerals or metals consisting of tin, tantalum, tungsten or gold from conflict and high risk areas into Switzerland or process them here. The same applies to companies that offer products or services for which there are reasonable grounds to suspect that they were manufactured or provided using child labour. They must identify the risks and take measures to minimise them. The fulfilment of the duties of care with regard to conflict minerals should be based, inter alia, on the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas and must be verified by an external expert.
The Federal Council has brought the ordinance with the implementing provisions on the due diligence obligation regarding conflict minerals and child labour and the provisions in the CO into force as of 1 January 2022 (see media release). The law grants companies one year to adapt to the new obligations. They will therefore apply for the first time in the 2023 business year.
Update of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
The OECD Guidelines reflect the expectation from 51 governments to businesses on human rights, labour conditions, the environment, the prevention of bribery, consumer interests, as well as information disclosure, science and technology, competition, and taxation. Ten years after the last major revision of the Guidelines in 2011, they will be updated in a number of specific areas. The aim is to ensure alignment with other instruments adopted since the last revision (e.g. UN 2030 Agenda, OECD Due Diligence Guidance).
Switzerland is in favour of updating the Guidelines to take account of key developments, particularly in relation to the environment, human rights and working conditions. In addition, provisions on the responsible use of digital technologies are to be added. To ensure uniform implementation by the National Contact Points (NCP), additional guidance is to be provided on these offices’ accessibility, transparency and accountability. In addition, certain rules of procedure for the handling of submissions by the NCP are to be regulated in more detail. Negotiations have started this summer and are expected to be completed within a year.
The OECD Working Party on Responsible Business Conduct is currently inviting interested stakeholders (e.g. businesses, civil society organisations, trade unions, as well as academia, international organisations) to comment on a consultation draft of potential updates. The public consultation is open until 10 February 2023.
COVID-19 and Responsible Business Conduct
COVID-19 has an impact on companies and society, e.g. on the preservation of the health and livelihood. How can responsible corporate action contribute to overcoming the crisis in the short and long term? Good examples, such as increasing the resilience of supply chains or distributing the benefits of stimulus measures fairly, can be found in the following papers:
Digitalisation and responsible business conduct
The implications of digitalisation for responsible business conduct are manifold. For example, new digital tools can enable businesses to strengthen their efforts to act responsibly, in particular as it relates to responsible supply chain management (e.g. blockchain technology to analyze risks in the supply chain, machine learning). At the same time, the digital transformation can also lead to business causing or contributing to social and environmental harms in new ways (e.g. risk of discrimination in the use of artificial intelligence, and human rights risks associated with surveillance technology and the misuse of online content platforms). The OECD has published the following instruments in this respect:
If no English version exists, the French version will be linked.
Last modification 16.01.2023