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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
Social Trends #24: January 23, 2003

Swiss Citizenship Laws and Multinationals Offer Poor Models for Japan

J. Sean Curtin (Professor, Japanese Red Cross University)

In a 6 January 2003 article for the Japan Times entitled "Atavistic Racism: Greatest Impediment" Professor Jean-Pierre Lehmann, a Switzerland based academic, explains why he believes Japan is much more of a racist society than Switzerland or Britain.* While some would agree with Professor Lehmann's assessment of Japan, I find his overall analysis too harsh. I understand Professor Lehmann's basic sentiment, but I believe he arrives at his severe conclusions by being overoptimistic about Europe and underestimating the level of ingrained racism in both Swiss and British society.

Professor Lehmann observes, "Switzerland has a reputation, not totally unjustified, of being a chauvinistic society. But walk into the headquarters of Nestle in Vevey and you will see all races represented at practically all levels of the hierarchy." Later commenting on the multiracial diversity that has transformed Lausanne, where his university is based, he adds, "Such a sea change in society could not have come about had it not been for the quiet, but enlightened leadership of establishment institutions such as Nestle and IMD." Nobody could fault Professor Lehmann's hopes for building a truly multiracial society and he certainly makes some excellent points in his article about the deficiencies of Japanese leaders in inspiring change. However, his views about Switzerland are far too rosy and this unrealistic vision of Swiss society leads him to an overly critical assessment of Japan.

In reality, Switzerland has the strictest nationality rules in Europe and many observers consider the country's stringent requirements degrading and humiliating for foreigners. First of all, you have to have lived in Switzerland at least 12 years even before you can apply for citizenship. However, what the overwhelming majority of foreign nationals find the worst aspect of applying for Swiss citizenship is that in a certain part of the country your neighbours are actually allowed to vote on whether or not you get citizenship. This is certainly not a model Japan or anybody else should follow and a close examination of Swiss procedures illustrates this point.

Once the residency and other requirements for Swiss nationality have been satisfied, the applicant can begin the initial process. This involves being interviewed by the local council, passing a language test (German, French or Italian) and demonstrating an understanding of the Swiss way of life. However, in one region after these hurdles are cleared, the local town council has the authority to send out a brochure in which citizenship hopefuls have their names, photos and personal details listed along with reasons for wanting to become Swiss. This is sent to every home in the applicant's local area and depending on the district, 10,000 people or more will receive this information and will be eligible to vote on whether or not their foreign neighbours get citizenship.

Local political parties are allowed to hold meetings so that voters can ask the applicants questions. Meetings organized by right-wing political parties, such as the Swiss People's Party, can be an extremely humiliating experience for foreigners from poorer Eastern European and African countries who can be forced to answer intrusive questions. Many nationals from the Balkans complain that Swiss people are prejudiced against them and in one area of Switzerland all applications from the Balkans were rejected by local voters. Eastern Europeans say that this type of citizenship process allows their neighbours to express prejudice and punish them unfairly. Although ethnic origin is not supposed to influence citizenship decisions, many applicants believe that if you have an Eastern European sounding name or the wrong colour skin, you have little chance of gaining Swiss citizenship. On the other hand, if you are white and from a wealthy European country, the citizenship process is often plain sailing. While Switzerland is certainly a more multiethnic society than Japan, its citizenship laws are considered to be degrading by many foreign nationals.**

Professor Lehmann holds up the Swiss multinational Nestle as an example of "enlightened leadership" for Japan to follow, but this same company is considered to be a pariah by millions of people around the world and is being actively boycotted for continued breaches of the 1981 World Health Organization code regulating the marketing of breast milk substitutes. Every 30 seconds, a baby in the developing world dies from unsafe bottle feeding. Nestle holds about 50% of the world's breast milk substitute market and according to its detractors encourages bottle feeding in developing countries while underplaying the risks. A January 2003 study in the highly respected British Medical Journal says that Nestle and other manufacturers of powdered baby milk substitutes are violating international codes when selling their product to West Africans. Nestle hardly seems to exhibit what can be termed "enlightened leadership" and is definitely not a good example for Japanese multinationals to follow.***

Professor Lehmann is absolutely correct when he comments that Britain is more racially tolerant than it was during his days at Oxford, but there is still a huge mountain to climb. The most recent and comprehensive British racial attitudes study conducted in 2002 shows that 51% of people feel Britain is a racist society. That view was held by 52% of white people and 53% of black people. The same opinion poll also found that 44% of people believe immigration has damaged Britain over the last 50 years. This clearly shows that even though great progress has been made in Britain, race relations are still nowhere near a satisfactory level.****

When European countries like Switzerland and Britain are subjected to the same degree of scrutiny as Japan, serious racial problems are revealed. This reminds us that while many European countries are far ahead of Japan in racial issues, Europeans cannot afford to take an overly superior stance towards the Japanese.


* Atavistic Racism: Greatest Impediment
Jean-Pierre Lehmann, Japan Times, 6 January 2003

** "Swiss Democracy Gone Mad?"
Imogen Foulkes, BBC World, 8 June 2001

*** "Monitoring compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in west Africa: multisite cross sectional survey in Togo and Burkina Faso"
Victor M Aguayo, Jay S Ross, Souleyman Kanon, and Andre N Ouedraogo
British Medical Journal, 18 January 2003 (Volume 326, Issue 7381)
Abstract: http://bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/326/7381/127
Full Text: http://bmj.com/cgi/content/full/326/7381/127
British Medical Journal: http://bmj.com/

Campaign Against Nestle: Every 30 Seconds a baby Dies Because of Bottle-Feeding in Unhealthy Hygienic Condition

McSpotlight on the Baby Milk Industry

**** Britain 'a racist society' poll
BBC World, 20 May 2002

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