“Invisible dogs” in Davos: Corporations on the leash

Demonstration at Davos. (Photo:
Eliane Baumberger/Aliance Sud)

Fifty "invisible" dogs strayed through the streets of Davos last Wednesday, within sight of the World Economic Forum (WEF). The European Coalition for Corporate Justice drew much attention with a rally, calling to put corporations on a short leash – like the invisible dogs. The heads of Greenpeace International and Amnesty International supported the alliances' core demand: corporations should be required by law to comply with human rights and environmental standards.

Speaking at the rally in Davos, Kumi Naidoo, head of Greenpeace International, pointed to the numerous cases of severe environmental pollution by multinational corporations – including Shell in Nigeria, Trafigura in Côte d'Ivoire  and Danzer in Democratic Republic of the Congo, both headquartered in Switzerland.

People suffering the direct consequences of such environmental pollution find it very difficult to gain a legal hearing and hence hold the corporate headquarters accountable.

The European Coalition for Corporate Justice promotes corporate accountability  by bringing together national platforms of civil society organizations  including NGOs, trade unions, consumer advocacy groups and academic institutions from all over Europe. This alliance represents over 250 organizations present in 15 European countries such as the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and national chapters of Oxfam, Greenpeace, Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth.

Amnesty International head Salil Shetty recalled that the UN Human Rights Council recently approved guidelines on business and human rights. They clearly establish that it is not just States but also companies that must respect economic, social and cultural human rights. All the governments, and those of industrialized countries in particular, must act now to enforce this, he said.

Peter Niggli, Director of the Swiss Alliance of Development Organizations (Alliance Sud), called on the Swiss authorities to pass the respective laws. Switzerland has so far relied on companies to regulate themselves on a voluntary basis.

But several cases of human rights violations and environmental pollution clearly show that this is not sufficient. Switzerland bears special responsibility, being host to a huge number of multinational firms often operating in fields that are highly sensitive in human rights and environmental terms – in the commodities sector, for example.

In Switzerland, the Corporate Justice is supported by over 50 development and human rights organizations, women's and environmental associations, trade unions and church groups, shareholder associations, as well as a pension fund. Alliance Sud acts as the secretariat.

Corporate Justice is calling for clear rules for Swiss corporations worldwide. The Swiss Government and Parliament should put in place binding regulations to ensure that corporations headquartered in Switzerland observe human rights and environmental standards worldwide. Corporations should be bound by a duty of care to ensure that neither they nor their subsidiaries or suppliers act in breach of human rights or environmental standards.

Swiss policy currently relies on voluntary measures by companies. Swiss law treats the parent company here and its branches abroad as separate legal entities. If a company controlled by Glencore in the Congo violates human rights or environmental standards, the victims cannot hold the parent company in Switzerland liable.

More information
Alliance Sud: http://bit.ly/zQt6Za

European Coalition for Corporate Justice: http://bit.ly/xsiUIt