In the long term we can only be successful if we are familiar with our stakeholders’ needs and expectations. The larger and more diverse the Volkswagen Group and its products and services become, the greater our stakeholders’ expectations will be and the broader the spectrum of relations that we need to actively address. These include analysts and investors, employees, talents, customers, neighbors, suppliers, business partners, legislators, public authorities, academia and non-governmental organizations.
Goal: Create Understanding
For the Volkswagen Group, the dialogue with our stakeholders has many facets: it ranges from expectation management through innovation initiatives to risk identification. Here we pursue a systematic process and are basically in favor of an open and constructive dialogue in which we learn from each other, but also set out our own interests. The outcome of this process should be at least a mutual understanding of the different backgrounds and positions, but preferably a consensus on what a joint solution might look like. This should ideally be implemented in a joint project from which both sides benefit.
Stakeholder Relations at Group Level
Direct contact with stakeholders, especially employees, talents, business partners and customers, is cultivated above all by the brands. At Group level we seek to bundle these processes and take an overarching approach to discussing Group-wide topics. This includes our dialogue with legislators, academia and non-governmental organizations.
We are aware of the accusation that lobbying would run counter to the interests of open dialogue. And we openly admit that we too pursue our own interests – in awareness of our responsibility for employment and prosperity in many countries around the world. This is both necessary and legitimate. Our aim is to maintain the Group’s freedom of action. At the same time we help legislators by contributing our expertise to the processes of legislative and administrative decision making. We aim to do this as openly as possible, and have therefore joined the European Commission’s Transparency Register. Here we disclose our objectives and the financial resources we allocate to representing our interests. We have representative offices in major European automotive locations. We do not make donations to political parties or party-affiliated institutions. 10
POSITIONS ON POLITICAL ISSUES
The central topic in 2013, which also dominated our dialogue with the NGOs, was the regulation of CO2 emission levels for European fleets of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles. The Volkswagen Group spoke out at an early stage in favor of the European political target of 95 g for cars, and at the same time campaigned for financial assistance for alternative technologies of central importance for decarbonizing the transport sector. 11
At Group level we particularly cultivate membership of organizations that involve an intensive dialogue on sustainable development issues. At international level these primarily include our engagement with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), our participation in CSR Europe, a leading European network for social responsibility, and our work within the network of the UN Global Compact. We are also an active member of econsense, the sustainable development forum of German industry, and the international initiative “Biodiversity in Good Company”. The information we gain from these sources is passed on to the brands and regions. Details of Group membership of other organizations can be found on the Internet. 12
For 17 years a stakeholder panel has been evaluating our reporting.
Stakeholder Panel and Annual Evaluation
In cooperation with the Institute for Market, Environment and Society (imug) we established a stakeholder panel, which has now been running for 17 years. It follows our activities, especially our environmental and sustainability reporting activities, and produces a critical commentary every year. To this end, imug holds detailed interviews with a total of 33 representatives of different stakeholder groups. This evaluation helps us to critically scrutinize and improve our Sustainability Report, and also provides information about weaknesses in our Group-wide sustainability coordination. 13
The 2012 Group Sustainability Report scored very well on the whole – in fact it was rated the best ever. Criticism was voiced about its size: 170 pages. At the same time, however, the stakeholder representatives’ comments indicate a need to improve the content, calling for more detailed treatment of quite a number of topics. The main recommendations are set out briefly below. We have also tried to address them in this report:
- Indicators: Important indicators should be emphasized and their significance for management discussed. It would also be desirable to place the data in context and offer means of comparing them – both internally and with competitors.
- Dilemmas: The report should devote more space to critical issues and discuss conflicts of interest. This also includes the issue of lobbying.
- Product responsibility: As a global group, Volkswagen also bears responsibility for what happens to vehicles after they have been sold, and ought to make this clear. Stakeholders also want to see more about road safety.
- Intelligent mobility: The Group should provide a more detailed presentation that is not confined to thinking within the Group, but also includes aspects going beyond its limits, such as how to design cities worth living in.
- Dealing with conflict materials: This topic should be dealt with in greater detail. Stakeholders want to know where the raw materials used by the Group come from. There should also be a description of concrete measures.
- Social engagement: The connection between social engagement projects and the Group’s sustainability strategy should be made clearer. Information about the evaluation of such projects would also be desirable.
THE VOLKSWAGEN GROUP’S STAKEHOLDERS AND THEIR EXPECTATIONS
See the Internet for a list of stakeholder dialogues in 2013 14
The brands Audi, MAN, Volkswagen and Porsche have carried out their own – mostly very extensive – online surveys of their stakeholders, as have Volkswagen do Brasil and Volkswagen Financial Services. Moreover, in 2013 all companies in the Volkswagen Group took part in the “Stimmungsbarometer” – an opinion survey for employees of the Volkswagen Group. This was the first Group-wide investigation of employee needs and interests. In future it will be conducted in this form every two years. The Group also has a standardized procedure for communication with customers. The Volkswagen brand, for example, runs a Marketing KPI Cockpit survey four times a year in 30 countries. In 2013 the brand and model image section for the first time included and analyzed issues of direct relevance to sustainability.
STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT AT VOLKSWAGEN DO BRASIL
In 2013 Volkswagen do Brasil published a Yearbook on sustainability as the outcome of an intensive process of identifying stakeholder needs. The following central groups were identified: dealers, suppliers, customers, employees, third parties and the Group. The most important topics to emerge from the materiality analysis were: non-discrimination, anti-corruption, product responsibility and freedom of association.
Dialogue and Cooperation
Both the Volkswagen Group and the brands maintain an intensive dialogue with their stakeholders – their own employees, customers, suppliers, business partners and their local neighbors. This also includes a constructive exchange with public authorities and in most cases intensive long-term cooperation with organizations representing social and environmental interests. This is prompted by a desire not only to be a responsible corporate citizen but also to obtain insight into external perceptions of our own activities.
RAISING AWARENESS AMONG MANAGEMENT
In 2012 MAN Truck & Bus initiated the “Manage responsibly” training course to integrate corporate responsibility in HR and management development. The training course was successfully continued in 2013. It puts managers in a position to implement the CR and climate strategy in their own areas of responsibility. To date, nearly 300 managers and multipliers have taken part in more than 30 half-day training sessions.
For the past 15 years Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles has been engaged in a dialogue with its neighbors at the Hanover site in Germany, because the factory is situated close to residential areas. It maintains a particularly intensive dialogue with the contact group elected by the participants, which meets several times a year for discussion with company representatives. This has made it possible to reduce misgivings and build up a climate of mutual understanding. For some years now, similar discussions have also been taking place at our Poznań site in Poland. The focus is not only on exchanging information and reaching an understanding with the neighbors, but also on long-term initiatives aimed at supporting and promoting various groups in local society.
COOPERATION WITH NABU
For the past 13 years Volkswagen and NABU, Germany’s biggest environmental and nature conservation organization, have been engaged in a unique form of cooperation. Entitled “Mobile for mankind and nature”, it is reflected in a wide variety of projects and an ongoing critical dialogue on issues relating to environmental protection and sustainability. The environmental program developed jointly by NABU and Volkswagen Leasing GmbH, an eco-friendly fleet management service offered to major customers, makes a substantial contribution to reducing CO2 emissions. The annual presentation of the “Green Fleet” award aims to encourage others to follow this example. Wherever possible, the partners link their initiatives for resource efficiency and environmental protection with NABU’s core concern, the conservation of nature and biodiversity. Important initiatives include not only the rehydration of peat and bog areas, but also the renaturing of the Lower Havel river, Europe’s biggest river meadow project. Since 2003 the partners have organized nationwide fuel economy action days in cooperation with local NABU groups and Volkswagen dealers. The “Mobile Dialogue” series of events fosters the public debate about major environmental and transport policy issues. “Welcome Wolf” is the title of an information campaign which has staged numerous activities since 2004 to promote protection for the wolves reintroduced into Germany.