Geneva (AFP)

Switzerland rejected an initiative on Sunday that wanted to impose stricter legal obligations on Swiss companies in terms of respect for human rights and environmental standards.

According to the polling institute gfs.bern, the so-called "responsible multinationals" initiative was rejected by at least 14 of the 26 Swiss cantons even though it was approved by a narrow majority of votes (50.7%) .

However, to be adopted, a text must be approved by both a majority of voters and of the cantons.

This text provided for obliging Swiss companies to ensure respect for human rights and the environment in their activities abroad, in those of their suppliers or their business partners.

It would also have made it possible to force companies to answer possible failures before the courts in Switzerland.

"I am extremely disappointed (...) but it is an initiative that has received incredible support (...) and we see that the whole country has had a very broad debate, a debate which is healthy and which raises the question of the values ​​that we want to ensure in a globalized economy ", declared on the public channel RTS Lisa Mazzone, representative of the Swiss Greens, party which called to vote yes for the initiative supported by 130 NGOs.

The Federal Council (government) as well as business defense organizations called on voters to reject the text, believing that it risked harming Swiss economic interests.

"This result is a great relief, because the initiative created uncertainty for the entire Swiss economic fabric, including SMEs," said the Swiss agency Keystone-ATS Cristina Gaggini, director of 'Economiesuisse, association for the defense of companies, for French-speaking Switzerland.

The vote reveals a divide which corresponds to the linguistic border of Switzerland, the German-speaking German-speaking cantons having in majority rejected the initiative while the French-speaking French-speaking cantons generally approved it.

- Counter-project -

A total of 64.8% of voters, for example, rejected the text in the German-speaking canton of Zug which houses the headquarters of Glencore, a commodities giant, which was often questioned by the initiators of the vote, during the campaign. .

Their poster campaign notably showed a little girl in front of a mine in Peru belonging to a company controlled by the Swiss multinational.

Along with heavy metal releases, some 2,000 children in the region show chronic symptoms of intoxication, suffering from anemia, disabilities and paralysis, according to supporters of the initiative.

They have multiplied the examples, implicating pesticides long banned in Switzerland but sold elsewhere by the agrochemist Syngenta or the discharge of fine particles from a lafargeHolcim cement plant in Nigeria.

For supporters of the "no", the initiative went too far and even risked being counterproductive in forcing companies to leave countries where they invest and create jobs, for fear of an increased risk of complaints.

Now that the popular initiative has been rejected, a counter-project developed by Parliament will apply.

It pursues the same objective of increased corporate responsibility in terms of human rights and respect for the environment, but, deplore the NGOs, without really binding scope.

In another vote, the Swiss also rejected an initiative to prohibit their central bank and pension funds from contributing to the financing of manufacturers of war material through their investments.

According to gfs.bern, it would be rejected by 58% of the population as well as by a majority of cantons.

© 2020 AFP