The State duty to protect

Staatliche Schutzpflicht 67750972

International human rights law requires states to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of individuals within their territory and/or jurisdiction. This includes the duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business enterprises. The Swiss federal government’s duty to protect stems from its international commitments, namely the international human rights conventions that it has ratified (UN conventions, ILO conventions, European Convention on Human Rights).

In accordance with the UN Guiding Principles, the State should introduce a smart mix of mandatory and voluntary measures, set out its expectations of the corporate sector, ensure policy coherence and pay particular attention to government-associated businesses.

Smart mix of mandatory and voluntary measures

The State duty to protect emphasises the duty to take the necessary action to protect the population from human rights abuses, whether committed by public or private-sector actors, including business enterprises. This can be achieved by means of legislation, incentives and support measures.

The State can employ both binding and non-binding instruments to fulfil its duty to protect. In particular, it can also support corporate initiatives. The State duty to protect is supplemented by the corporate responsibility to respect human rights.

Switzerland’s international obligations require it, for example, to take measures to combat forced labour and human trafficking. Human trafficking for labour exploitation is defined as the recruiting or trading of people who are forced to work against their will. SECO is committed to making labour inspectors aware of this issue. SECO’s Labour Directorate began its awareness campaign on 20 July 2020 with the publication of an information brochure containing practical tools, including indicators for identifying potential victims.

Various stakeholders advocate the introduction of legally binding due diligence. In April 2015, a group of 66 civil society organisations launched an initiative for responsible multinationals which calls for human rights due diligence to be enshrined in law.

Examples of legislative measures

Examples of support measures