Plan to Boost Big Swiss Firms’ Liability Fails in Referendum (Associated Press/US News – November 29, 2020)

GENEVA (AP) — A proposal that could have stiffened penalties against companies based in Switzerland if they violate human rights or harm the environment abroad failed in a Swiss referendum on Sunday.

The initiative titled “Responsible companies — to protect people and the environment” won a narrow majority of votes, with 50.7% percent backing it and 49.3% against, but failed because a majority of the country’s cantons, or states, came out against it. Support was strongest in urban areas, much of Switzerland’s French-speaking west and Italian-speaking Ticino.

Under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, which gives voters a direct say several times each year on a variety of issues, proposals need a majority both of votes cast and of cantons to pass. The Swiss held two other referendums this year, but one in May was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal government opposed the plan championed by left-leaning groups and some big civil society organizations, asserting that it went too far. Parliament has proposed a countermeasure that would also boost scrutiny of such companies’ actions.

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