On February 22, a coalition of civil society organizations – consisting of the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law, the Berne Declaration, the Center for Economic and Social Rights, and the Tax Justice Network – made a joint written submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) – the UN body mandated to oversee compliance with women’s human rights – to examine the extra-territorial impacts of Switzerland’s opaque financial legislation on women’s rights and gender equality, particularly in developing countries.
On March 7, the Global Justice Clinic presented an oral statement on this written submission during the 65th Pre-Sessional Working Group in Geneva. The oral statement underlined the harmful effects of Switzerland’s banking and tax policies on women’s rights and gender equality abroad, particularly in developing countries, and emphasized Switzerland’s obligation under international law to refrain from conduct, and protest private conduct, that foreseeably undermines the ability of other states to mobilize resources needed to fulfill CEDAW’s promise. During the statement, it was requested that the Committee ask Switzerland to report on the measures it is taking to ensure that its tax and financial secrecy policies do not contribute to large-scale tax abuse, which deprives developing countries from the resources needed to realize women’s rights and substantive equality.
The coalition succeeded in pushing CEDAW to include a question about Swiss responsibility for cross-border impacts on human rights in the “List of Issues” that Switzerland will have to address when appearing before the Committee in October. In particular, under “Extraterritorial Obligations“, the document now reads:
“According to information before the Committee, there are several examples of activities of Swiss companies operating abroad, having a negative impact on the human rights of women. Please provide information on the regulatory framework for industries and companies operating in the State party to ensure that their activities do not negatively affect human rights or endanger environmental, labour and other standards, especially those relating to women’s rights. Please further provide information on the measures taken to ensure that the State party’s tax and financial secrecy policy does not contribute to largescale tax abuse in foreign countries, thereby negatively impacting on resources available to realize women’s rights in those countries.”
To read the press release, click here.