Human Rights & Business

Promoting Voluntary Standards

In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), a set of principles that frame the responsibilities of governments and businesses to protect and respect human rights.

In response to that, the Swiss parliament has adopted in 2012 a “Ruggie” Strategy, which aims at implementing the UNGPs at the national level and promoting the principles among all companies based in Switzerland.


In light of the recommendation 11 of the Swiss background report on commodities from 2013, a special guidance to implement the UNGPs in the commodity trading industry in Switzerland will be developed in cooperation with representatives from the authorities, Swiss NGOs, the private sector and the mandated Institute for Human Rights and Business.

STSA has been resolutely committed to this multi-stakeholder dialogue and has openly supported the realisation of this guidance for Human Rights and Business. Together with its members, STSA has been contributing expertise and knowledge during the process in order to make this guidance functional and applicable to the different requirements in commodity trading.

Swiss Federal Human Rights and Commodity Trading Guidance

The Swiss Federal council expects companies to respect human rights throughout their activities.

On 27 March 2013, the Federal Council adopted the background report: Commodities. The report highlights the importance of the commodity trading sector in Switzerland and demonstrates how Switzerland ensures its competitiveness and integrity as a centre of economic activity. It also shows Switzerland's support to international efforts to deal with the challenges of commodity production, mining and trading.The report's 17 recommendations aim to improve the condition sof the sector and reduce existing risks - including reputational risks. The Federal Council tasked the federal adminsitration with fulfilling these recommendations, in close cooperation with the private sector, cantons and civil society.

In this context, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) have been tasked with the implementation of Recommendation n°11, which states that "a working group, in cooperation with representatives of thge stakeholders involved (specifically, the cantons, as well as companies and NGOs) should prepare proposals for corporate social responsbility standards (including implementation mechanisms) for the commodity trading industry. Based on those proposals, consideration should be given to the submission of initiatives and international guidelines -designed, specifically, also to deal with ecological effects- before the appropriate international bodies".

The work will be carried in two distinct phases:

  1. Mapping exercise
    The mapping exercise, based on desk research and interviews, is expected to provide a clear picture of commodity trading in Switzerland and define, inter alia, an overall approach of the value chain that fits the sector, i.e. identify areas and challenges common to the commodity trading sector.
  2. Development of a sector guidance
    Building on the mapping exercise, the development of a sector guidance is aimed at assisting the actors the commodity trading sector implement the UN Guiding Principles. The guidance will cover trading and other related activities, such as the origins and conditions in which the commodities are sourced.

The guidance will make recommendations on how best to mitigate the human risks of commodity trading with respect to its supply chain.

Download the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) Mapping Study "The Swiss Commodity Trading Sector" (March 2017)