Top Stories

November 30, 2020

Human Rights 

Swiss firms narrowly avoid ‘Responsible Business’ liability as vote divides nation

Swiss firms narrowly avoided facing greater liability for human rights and environmental abuses after a national vote rejected the proposal due to regional differences despite it winning majority popular support. In a divisive referendum, 50.7 percent of total Swiss voters supported proposals by the Responsible Business Initiative (RBI) to extend liability over international human rights abuses and environmental harm caused by major Swiss companies and the firms they control abroad. However, the initiative failed to win support in a majority of cantons in Switzerland, a necessary condition for a public initiative to be enacted in the country. Proponents of the initiative said broad public support remained for sharper scrutiny of multinationals and commodities firms in one of the world’s leading commercial centres. (Reuters) 

Digital Ethics 

UN decries police use of racial profiling derived from Big Data

Police and border guards must combat racial profiling and ensure that their use of ‘Big Data collected via artificial intelligence does not reinforce biases against minorities, United Nations experts have said. They have called for companies that sell algorithmic profiling systems to public entities and private companies to be regulated to prevent misuse of personal data that perpetuates prejudices. Minorities and activists have complained about the growing use of artificial intelligence, facial recognition and other new technologies. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has drafted a general recommendation to the 182 countries that have ratified a binding international treaty prohibiting racial discrimination. (Thomson Reuters Foundation) 


More than 3 billion people affected by water shortages, data shows

Water shortages are now affecting more than 3 billion people around the world, as the amount of fresh water available for each person has plunged by a fifth over two decades, data has shown. About 1.5 billion people are suffering severe water scarcity or even drought, as a combination of climate breakdown, rising demand and poor management has made agriculture increasingly difficult across swathes of the globe. The UN warned that billions of people would face hunger and widespread chronic food shortages as a result of failures to conserve water resources, and to tackle the climate crisis. Qu Dongyu, director-general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has called for more to be done to improve farming practices around the world and to manage resources equitably. (The Guardian) 


Johnson urged to match Biden’s clean energy goals

Five of the UK’s largest energy companies are lobbying UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to match US president-elect Joe Biden’s clean energy ambitions and set a deadline to slash emissions from Britain’s power system to net zero. BP, Royal Dutch Shell, National Grid, SSE and Drax want the government to set the target ahead of the UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next year, following Biden’s pledge during the US election campaign to decarbonise his country’s electricity system by 2035. Alistair Phillips-Davies, SSE’s chief executive, said a target would help “focus industry and investors’ minds on the job in hand”. However, many analysts are calling for more focus on how any target is achieved and at what cost, rather than the timeline. (Financial Times*) 


Sustainability leaders craft 10-point plan to revamp corporate purpose

Businesses in the vanguard of sustainability, including Unilever, Interface, Ikea and DSM, have come together to craft a new set of recommendations as to how the wider corporate community can embed a purpose aimed at tackling the climate crisis and social inequalities across the business. Convened through the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), the report lists ten recommendations for businesses to consider in order to embed a sense of purpose across an entire organisation. Crucially, the recommendations reflect on the current situation of being faced with numerous systemic challenges as companies emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. The report concludes that these challenges provide an opportunity for corporate strategies to be aligned with a long-term transition to a sustainable economy. (edie)