As an automobile manufacturer encompassing 12 brands and 119 production sites in 153 markets, we are confronted with a broad spectrum of requirements, expectations and attitudes on a daily basis. The enormous diversity of our interactions represents an enormous opportunity, because the relationships which our companies maintain with their stakeholders are invaluable to the work we do together. At the same time, this diversity of interests is also a challenge, because it can result in conflicting objectives.
Volkswagen Balances Stakeholder DemandsGRI G4-24, G4-25
In our stakeholder relations, every day we must strike a balance between efficient business practices and the wide-ranging expectations of society at large. The demands placed on us as a corporation and as a corporate citizen are just as diverse as our portfolio of products and services. Our customers expect us to offer high-quality mobility solutions and first-class services. Fair pay, job security and co-determination are important issues for our more than 610,000 employees. Investors and analysts, on the other hand, are focused on steadily upward-trending sales and solid profit growth, whereas civil society organizations prioritize corporate social responsibility and support for their social and environmental projects. We have put a strategic stakeholder management system in place to help the Group navigate this multitude of demands and expectations.
We define stakeholders as all individuals or groups and organizations with a justified interest in the processes and/or results of the Volkswagen Group’s corporate decision-making. Our customers and employees form the center of our stakeholder universe. Surrounding this core are twelve additional stakeholder groups, which we make no attempt to prioritize – because while the demands of our stakeholders are not all of the same nature, we consider them all to have the same value.
Volkswagen AG StakeholdersGRI G4-24
Holistic Approach to Strategic Stakeholder ManagementGRI G4-21, G4-24, G4-25, G4-27
It is clear that we will only be successful in the long term if we familiarize ourselves thoroughly with the interests, needs and expectations of our stakeholders and deal with them proactively. Because we recognize the importance of conducting a dialog of equals, we place particularly high demands on our stakeholder management system: These include:
- Systematically monitoring, recording and understanding stakeholder expectations for Volkswagen
- Working together to solve problems and productively share knowledge and experience
- Identifying potential areas of conflict and future risks, and defusing current conflicts
- Improving the quality of decision-making through transparency, openness and participation
We believe that stakeholder management does not just mean managing our stakeholders, but engaging with and fostering relationships with our stakeholders. This requires systematic and strategic planning, preparation, implementation and monitoring of all our activities and relationships. To master the huge variety of these interactions, intelligent and decentralized steering mechanisms are needed.
Stakeholder Management at Volkswagen – a holistic ApproachGRI G4-21, G4-24, G4-25, G4-27
Planning and GovernanceGRI G4-25
Our brands are responsible for maintaining direct contact with our stakeholders. At Group level, we bring together these activities, projects and processes under one roof and align them strategically in close collaboration with representatives of our brands, markets and regions. The Volkswagen Group has established a clear structure for coordinating stakeholder management. The top sustainability body is the Group Board of Management (Sustainability Board), which receives regular reports on stakeholder management from the Corporate Sustainability Steering Group. Among its other responsibilities, the Steering Group is tasked with defining the strategic objectives and requirements for stakeholder management. The Steering Group is supported by the Sustainability Office. Its remit also includes the coordination of all sustainability-related activities within the Group and brands, as well as stakeholder dialog conducted at Group level.
Standardization, Documentation and CommunicationGRI G4-25
We consider it very important to offer transparent and comprehensive information about all our activities. Our Sustainability Report is our primary medium for delivering this accountability. Each year, it paints a detailed picture of our commitment to social responsibility. We provide additional information in press releases, social media and special publications focusing on current projects and initiatives. For internal communications, we also use an online community, our employee newsletter and a text-messaging service. We use the latter once a week to distribute bilingual information on the Group’s current projects and dialog forums.
In planning, implementing and evaluating our stakeholder initiatives, we are guided by the latest standards established by many different levels of regulation. First and foremost, this includes the AccountAbility 1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard and the fourth generation of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI G4) guidelines for sustainability reporting. We also use other systems of reference, some of which are presented in the following overview.
Multilevel Systems of Standards and Norms for Stakeholder Management
|Levels||Examples||Contents||Links to documents|
|International||OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises||Describes the general principles of responsible business conduct||http://mneguidelines.oecd.org/guidelines/|
|GRI G4||Defines appropriate content and best practice for reporting on the subject||https://www.globalreporting.org/standards|
|European||EMAS||Governs external communication with stakeholders on environmental management and auditing systems||http://ec.europa.eu/environment/emas/|
|National||VDI 7000||Governs stakeholder participation in infrastructure projects (new plant construction, plant expansion, etc.)||http://www.vdi.eu/|
|Internal||Guidelines and Principles of Group External Relations||Declaration of corporate understanding of and duties associated with political stakeholder management||[Document: as at 04/2015]|
|Declaration on Social Rights and Industrial Relationships at Volkswagen (Volkswagen Social Charter)||Manufacturer's statement on the rights and principles involved in interactions with Group employees||[Document: as at 06/2002]|
Our brands offer a wide range of opportunities for dialog, and we pool this communication at Group level. Neighborhood dialogs are held at regular intervals at our various sites. For example, in November 2015, the Audi AG production site in Neckarsulm organized an “Among neighbors” dialog forum, giving local residents a chance to discuss current developments and corporate citizenship with the management of the plant. Porsche AG held similar neighborhood discussions to share information about planned construction projects at their Zuffenhausen site. And a dialog event which took place at the Volkswagen plant in Hanover provided an open setting for discussing plant-related news and current developments, and answering critical questions from nearby residents regarding environmental protection and local traffic. The goal of these dialog forums is to build mutual understanding, or at least achieve a shared understanding of the position and situation of each party. Such activities are not limited to our German locations. The Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles and Bentley brands organized similarly open exchanges of opinion with local stakeholders at their sites in Poznań (Poland) and Crewe (United Kingdom). Another example of intensive dialog between our employees, NGOs, the scientific community and policymakers can be found in the “Responsibility Perspectives” lecture series held by Audi AG in the reporting year, where experts were invited to speak on topics such as sustainability metrics and how carbon emissions will impact on the world after 2020. You will find an overview of all our dialog forums here.
Partnerships GRI G4-26
In addition to these dialog forums, we also build more in-depth relationships of trust with selected stakeholders. This is based on our desire to support communities, solve problems together and leverage the competencies of these players in our decision-making process. Examples include our cooperation with the German Red Cross (DRK) and our efforts to help refugees. Humanity, public spirit and responsibility – these are the values on which the work of the German Red Cross is based, and we in the Volkswagen Group share these values. As part of a strategic partnership, the Volkswagen Group helps the German Red Cross to find even more people who are willing to volunteer their time. This goal is central to the partnership, in conjunction with strengthening the Red Cross’s rescue service. Under the motto “Helping Together”, we join in the collective task of receiving and integrating the refugees who come to Europe and Germany. This is accomplished through a wide variety of projects, starting with immediate aid in the initial reception facilities, extending to embrace local integration and education projects, and providing vehicles and non-monetary resources.
Our long-standing cooperation and consultancy agreement with the German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) expired on December 31, 2015. Extension of the contract and further collaboration are suspended for the time being as a result of the diesel issue. We would like to continue our strategic partnership with NABU and are working intensively on creating the conditions required for this in the hope of building on the success of past projects. In 2015, these initiatives included a top-level meeting attended by Board members, nature and species conservation projects, and public discussion forums. You can find an overview of past initiatives undertaken as part of our partnership with NABU here.
Our brands also maintain their own partnerships. For example, MAN has been cooperating with SOS Children’s Villages for many years. On the occasion of the NGO’s 60th anniversary in 2015, MAN invited some 80 people to a celebration in the German town of Dießen am Ammersee. Our multi-stakeholder initiatives are another cornerstone of our partnership programs. In the reporting year, the Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles brand launched a joint pilot project called “Urban Logistics”, an initiative for quiet, zero-emission, safe and innovative infrastructure projects in urban areas. Other participants included the City of Hanover and the surrounding metropolitan area, Leibniz University of Hanover and Hanover University of Applied Sciences and Arts. In the same year, Scania AB again organized a conference called “TAKE CO2NTROL”for clients and their customers, aimed at developing joint solutions for cutting CO2 emissions using freight transport systems.
“Trust creates the right climate for a pioneering spirit and entrepreneurial courage, for the willingness to explore new things and take an active role in shaping change.”
Bernd Osterloh, speaking to the Lower Saxony State Parliament on March 7, 2016
As a Group, we are active at many levels through our various memberships. At present, this includes our involvement in the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and the European Business Network for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR Europe). Since 2002, both the Group and its Audi, MAN and Scania brands have been active members of the world’s largest and most important CSR initiative, the UN Global Compact (UNGC). As a consequence of the controversy surrounding the reporting of emissions values, at the end of 2015 we voluntarily suspended our position on the board of econsense, the Forum for Sustainable Development of German Business.
The same applies to our memberships of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the UNGC, the Biodiversity in Good Company initiative, and the German Global Compact Network (DGCN). Regardless of these temporary suspensions, we remain committed to the objectives and principles of all these initiatives. You can find an overview of our current memberships here.
ParticipationGRI G4-26, G4-27
We believe that stakeholder relations cannot be a one-way street. We see our stakeholders as equal partners and involve them in our decision-making processes. In addition to the strong culture of co-determination at Volkswagen, which played a role in the development of our Social Charter and Charter on Labour Relations, the establishment of an external Sustainability Council for the Volkswagen Group should also be mentioned here. The council will be made up of international figures from the scientific community and society at large, and will address topics such as “social responsibility and integrity”, “sustainable mobility and climate protection” and “the future of work and digitization”. Its stated goal is to work towards an even more compelling sustainability approach by involving experts on an institutional level. The reporting year saw a further example of stakeholder involvement, as Volkswagen Financial Services teamed up with NABU to present the “Green Fleet” environmental award. For the sixth time, and with the record participation of 146 fleets comprising some 25,000 vehicles, vehicle fleets with the largest share of eco-friendly vehicles from the Volkswagen Group were presented with awards at the IAA International Motor Show in Frankfurt in September 2015.
Stakeholder management begins with the question of stakeholder needs and interests, and ends with systematic feedback and monitoring of results. We take our stakeholders’ responses to our activities very seriously and place particular emphasis on continuous, ongoing evaluation. We regularly conduct comprehensive stakeholder surveys at Group and brand level. These include surveys of customer and employee satisfaction, as well as more broad-based studies. For example, in the reporting year Porsche AG launched a survey on “Porsche and sustainability”. The results enabled the company to mobilize critical stakeholder feedback for the further development of sustainability management goals and instruments. In addition, we have rolled out an IT-based stakeholder management system so that we can better document and analyze our activities. The system also helps with the planning of our future priorities and projects.
And finally, working together with the German Institute for Market, Environment and Society (imug), once a year we ask a stakeholder panel to carry out an assessment of our Sustainability Report. In 2014 the survey sample was expanded to include 36 national and 36 international stakeholder representatives. The aim of this comprehensive evaluation is to improve the effectiveness and utility of our report for a wide range of target groups. The positive feedback and critical comments from these regular reviews help us optimize our sustainability reporting. In the last year’s survey, perceived improvements included the addressing of critical issues through focus topics, as well as a more systematic response to criticisms. The main wishes for the future expressed by the panel included the clear, forward-looking presentation of our sustainability strategy, a focus on key report content, and the inclusion of integrated reporting elements. The results of the evaluation of 2014 can be found here.