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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