Another perspec­tive

Commitment to fundamental values

Where­ver there is good, bad isn’t too far away. The phil­an­thro­pic sector has step­ped in here, too, as demons­tra­ted by orga­ni­sa­ti­ons working to protect the inte­rests of those who have lost out under our world order.

‘Where­ver there are winners, there are losers,’ says Oliver Clas­sen, media spokesper­son at Public Eye. This asso­cia­tion has been unco­ve­ring human rights viola­ti­ons and ecolo­gi­cal destruc­tion around the globe since 1968. On one condi­tion: the issue in ques­tion needs to have origi­na­ted in Switz­er­land. Public Eye aims to create a fairer world that will be in a fit state for gene­ra­ti­ons to come. It focu­ses prima­rily on compa­nies based between Geneva and Lake Cons­tance, but Public Eye aims to have a deeper impact, too. The asso­cia­tion, form­erly the ‘Erklä­rung von Bern’ (or ‘Bern Decla­ra­tion’), wants to high­light the struc­tures that under­lie certain instances of abuse. It is not seeking to combat the symptoms, but rather to unco­ver the causes. How are global finan­cial flows orga­nised? How do profits make their way to Switz­er­land? How do the costs of ecolo­gi­cal destruc­tion conti­nue to have an impact on the loca­tion in ques­tion? ‘There are busi­ness models that use and cement imba­lan­ces of power. And the biggest scan­dal is often that there’s no scan­dal at all,’ says Oliver Clas­sen. ‘Our society has got used to this mani­fest evil: we want to use our work to resen­si­tise people to it.’ If you ask uncom­for­ta­ble ques­ti­ons like these, you run the risk of recei­ving uncom­for­ta­ble [OC1] answers. Our society itself comes under fire.

Illus­tra­tion: Peter Kruppa

Lines that cannot be crossed

Amnesty Inter­na­tio­nal also asks uncom­for­ta­ble ques­ti­ons, with funda­men­tal values of central importance to its work. It deli­bera­tely avoids shying away from unpo­pu­lar topics. ‘We don’t doubt that some of our campaigns aren’t going to make us any friends,’ says Beat Gerber, a spokesper­son for Amnesty Switz­er­land. ‘Often, they don’t conform to the prevai­ling opinion.’ Howe­ver, a society needs to respect those lines that cannot be crossed. In other words, funda­men­tal rights need to be upheld, even within the war on terror, for exam­ple. ‘Our work is always guided by the vision that human rights apply to ever­yone – no matter where, no matter when,’ he says. Amnesty unco­vers instances of miscon­duct by autho­ri­ties and govern­ments. The syste­ma­tic work carried out by the non-profit orga­ni­sa­tion helps bring about chan­ges in the way people think, and it is partly down to them that 142 count­ries have banned the death penalty. Simi­larly, torture is now frow­ned upon around the world – due largely to the reso­lute efforts on the part of Amnesty Inter­na­tio­nal. ‘A key sign of this success is that even unjust regimes state that they do not engage in torture,’ says Beat Gerber. Amnesty’s attempts to make people aware of instances of abuse also include more recent topics, such as sexual violence towards women and girls, discri­mi­na­tion or the viola­tion of refu­gees’ rights. Climate change, too, is part of this. Society and the world of poli­tics are beco­ming aware that exis­ten­tial values are at play here, a deve­lo­p­ment Oliver Clas­sen is also aware of. No matter whether under the banner of Black Lives Matter, the Women’s Strike or the climate move­ment, incre­asing numbers of people are taking to the streets. He thinks this is espe­ci­ally surpri­sing in Switz­er­land. After all, in direct demo­cracy, people regu­larly have the oppor­tu­nity to put their opinion across at the ballot box. But it seems that’s no longer enough. ‘Our era has been shaped by multi­ple crises for a long time,’ he states. ‘And these crises, in turn, are caused by multi­ple factors. They give rise to a new aware­ness of inju­s­tice.’ Public Eye has been high­light­ing the under­ly­ing problems with globa­li­sa­tion for years. This issue made its way into the main­stream with the Respon­si­ble Busi­ness Initia­tive, if not before. And would it alre­ady be able to gain majo­rity back­ing? For Oliver Clas­sen, one thing is clear, at least: ‘It’s our gene­ra­tion that need to fix it. We need to turn things around.’ Clas­sen is expe­ri­en­cing at first hand how the accep­tance and rele­vance of their work is chan­ging. ‘Today, we’ve recei­ved enqui­ries from corpo­rate lawy­ers inte­res­ted in a job with us. And we get major compa­nies asking if we can comment on their sustaina­bi­lity reports,’ says Oliver Clas­sen. Howe­ver, there is no ques­tion of Public Eye colla­bo­ra­ting with compa­nies. ‘Total inde­pen­dence is our most precious asset.’

Oliver Clas­sen, media spokesper­son at Public Eye (above), and Beat Gerber from Amnesty Inter­na­tio­nal (right). | Photos: zVg

Inde­pen­dent and credible

Both Public Eye and Amnesty Switz­er­land are prima­rily finan­ced through member­ship contri­bu­ti­ons and dona­ti­ons. Support from foun­da­ti­ons, often on a project-by-project basis, also helps them remain inde­pen­dent from nati­ons and compa­nies. In turn, this guaran­tees credi­bi­lity – which is essen­tial. Inde­pen­dent infor­ma­tion is criti­cally important, and facts are what ensure that the message gets across. ‘We invest a great deal in rese­arch,’ says Beat Gerber. Docu­men­ta­tion is one of the organisation’s key tasks. Infor­ma­tion enables it to bring hidden inju­s­ti­ces to the public’s atten­tion and main­tain aware­ness of them. In this way, Amnesty Inter­na­tio­nal has been able to free and save thou­sands of people since it was foun­ded in 1961. For this to work, you need to teach both know­ledge and skills. Beat Gerber: ‘As an orga­ni­sa­tion, we have eight million members. We work with the people on the ground and aim to put them in a posi­tion where they can pile on the pres­sure them­sel­ves.’ Human rights acti­vists receive death thre­ats on a fairly frequent basis, but this response is also proof that their acti­vi­ties are hitting a nerve.

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