Swiss government opposes responsible business initiative campaign

ZURICH, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Switzerland’s government urged voters on Tuesday to reject a plan to hold Swiss-based companies responsible by law for human rights and environmental abuses abroad, saying the campaign by activists went too far.

Proponents of the “responsible business initiative” want Swiss companies to apply mandatory due diligence to identify risks to people and the environment in all their business, even involving suppliers abroad, and let victims seek redress in Switzerland.

The public will vote on the initiative in a referendum on Nov. 29 under the country’s system of direct democracy.

Switzerland is home to a number of multinationals, from Nestle to commodities trading house Glencore. Many businesses reject the proposed changes saying they would lead to a flood of legal cases.

“The government too wants better protection of human rights and the environment. But for the government, this initiative is the wrong path,” the justice ministry said in a statement, noting Swiss companies were already liable if they cause harm abroad.

The ministry said the government suggested voters back a counterproposal approved by parliament that calls for new reporting and due diligence rules but which campaign organisers have dismissed as too lax.

Under Switzerland’s direct democracy, supporters can force a binding referendum if they gather 100,000 voter signatures. (Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Susan Fenton)