"Sustainable businesses often lack visibility"

Some businesses feel underrepresented by the major umbrella associations in the Swiss economy, as they are often consulted infrequently and not always aligned with the same political positions. Adopting a more democratic approach, the Swiss Federation of Enterprises aims to amplify the voices of its members.

Since its establishment in 2019, the Swiss Federation of Enterprises (SFE) – formerly known as the Swiss Association of Enterprises (ASAM) – has been advocating for small and medium-sized Swiss enterprises that seek to contribute to a more sustainable economy. With nearly 1,200 members across Switzerland, the association positions itself as an alternative to existing major umbrella associations, emphasizing better involvement of its members in its political stances. We spoke with Christophe Barman, co-president of the association since spring 2023.

How would you summarize the positioning of the Federation of Enterprises in the economy?

Christophe Barman: We stand with businesses that want the economy to be more involved in the fight against climate change and social inequalities. In the current context, especially with Switzerland's commitments to carbon neutrality, it seems inconceivable for businesses not to consider the impact of their activities on the environment and society. This also requires a paradigm shift in federal and cantonal policies, actively supporting the transition to a more circular economy that is less resource intensive.

The association aims to represent businesses with a sustainable and progressive focus, but merely claiming to adhere to this creed is enough for membership. How do you ensure that your members uphold their commitments?

Barman: Currently, the membership of each member undergoes a verification process by the committee, but it doesn't go further than that. The FSE aims to be inclusive and does not plan to conduct audits to assess how well its values are reflected in each member. If a company sees fit to join the FSE, we welcome it. It is not only about expanding our sphere of influence but also avoiding cultivating exclusivity by preaching only to the converted.

How do you represent the interests of your members at the national political level?

Barman: Sustainable businesses often lack visibility. It happens that large competing companies, less sustainable but with better communication, are favored in the market. We are advocating for the Confederation to establish a recognized status for sustainable companies, inspired by the legal frameworks already adopted in Italy, France and Spain. Such an official status would make it possible to establish clear and objective sustainability criteria for companies. Additionally, we will submit other projects for approval by our members, including a follow-up to the "responsible multinational" initiative, addressing the rising costs of card or Twint payments, advocating for better inclusion of circular economy principles in environmental law, and even the principle of differentiated VAT (editor's note: Differentiated VAT rates help reduce the tax burden on basic goods and services and encourage the reduction of consumption of harmful products for health and the environment).

The association has opted for a "direct democracy" system to decide on its political orientations. What does that involve?

Barman: Every stance on behalf of the association is subject to consultation with its members. On this point, we also distinguish ourselves from major umbrella organizations that rely on centralized decision-making through a small committee.

For example, last spring, we launched a petition calling for the revision of the interest rate increase for covid loans (raised in April 2023 from 0% to 1.5% for loans up to CHF 500,000 and from 0.5% to 2% for those exceeding this amount, editor's note). The project received a majority of favorable opinions among our members, so we decided to proceed. The petition is now in the hands of the Federal Council, which still needs to make a decision on it. In any case, we sought the opinion of each of our members in a democratic perspective.

What other advantages do SMEs have in joining the Swiss Federation of Enterprises?

Barman: Currently, we offer a marketplace platform available to our members. The idea is for businesses to exchange materials and production means in a short circuit, with a circular perspective. Furthermore, we have created a job exchange to facilitate the recruitment of desired profiles within our network. Additionally, we are already working on a pension fund project for our members, which could be launched by 2025.

As a Romand entrepreneur, you were recently elected co-president of the FSE. What was your mission?

Barman: Founded by two German speakers – Aline Trede and Michel Gygax – the association took its first steps in the German-speaking region. The model that appealed beyond the Sarine River led the presidency to approach me to develop the project in the Romandie region. In just a few months, we went from 40 to 500 Romand members, which is an unexpected and encouraging success. In the future, we will also seek to expand into Ticino.



Christophe Barman, co-president of the Swiss Federation of Enterprises (FSE)

Co-founder of Loyco, which provides a range of services to businesses and employs 135 collaborators, Christophe Barman obtained the co-presidency of the Swiss Federation of Enterprises (FSE), which he shares with Bernese entrepreneur Aline Trede. A graduate in management from the University of Lausanne, the Geneva native is also known for serving as the president of the Romand Federation of Consumers (FRC) since 2017.

Last modification 15.11.2023

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