Being aware of our stakeholders’ needs and expectations is an important precondition for business success. They determine the development of our sales markets, the various regulatory frameworks and our reputation as a Group. That is why we seek and maintain a dialogue with our stakeholders, both at Group level and locally in the regions where we operate. Our stakeholders include analysts and investors, employees, customers, neighbors, suppliers, partners, politicians, public authorities, scientists and non-governmental organizations – a network of relationships that grows with our market presence.
Stakeholder Relations at Group Level
Direct contact with stakeholders, especially employees, 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 politicians, academia and non-governmental organizations. Our aim is to understand and respond to stakeholders’ expectations and promote appreciation of our positions and actions. In order to achieve this, we strive to continuously intensify the process of dialogue with our stakeholders. Reflecting these efforts, a broad spectrum of stakeholder groups showed great appreciation of the Volkswagen Group’s early commitment to the European politicians’ target of reducing average passenger car fleet CO2 emissions to 95 grams per kilometer by 2020.
THE Volkswagen GROUP’S STAKEHOLDERS AND THEIR EXPECTATIONS
G4-21, G4-24, G4-26, G4-27
Find a list of stakeholder dialogues in 2014 here 13
DIALOGUE with politicians
We maintain an ongoing dialogue with politicians to provide information and advice. In this process we not only react, but also take a proactive stance, offering our own solutions for discussion and stimulating innovations in the field of social policy. In view of global warming, regulation of CO2 emissions in the transportation sector was again the main topic of political stakeholder groups in numerous countries and regions in 2014. Volkswagen committed itself at an early stage to the emission limit of 95 g CO2/km in the EU which was set in 2014. In the second half of the reporting year, we successfully promoted the idea that a post-2020 target should not be set until it became clear how quickly the market for electric mobility would take off. In fact the new EU Commission declared its intention of using 2015 first of all for stakeholder dialogues and impact assessments. On the trade policy front the free-trade agreements with the USA (TTIP) and Canada (CETA) occupied our attention.
At Group level we particularly cultivate membership of organizations that involve an intensive dialogue on sustainable development issues and contribute to networking with sustainability-oriented businesses and our stakeholders. At international level these primarily include our engagement with the prestigious 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.
Our dialogue with stakeholders naturally includes taking a critical look at aspects of our own activities. One example in 2014 came at the Annual General Meeting, when the question of the company’s role during the military dictatorship in Brazil was raised. We pursued a policy of open communication and are working to come to terms with this chapter of the company’s history. At the opening of the São Paulo International Motor Show, Greenpeace do Brasil called upon Volkswagen and other major manufacturers to offer more efficient vehicles. In response, we gave Greenpeace a detailed explanation of our product strategy. As a basic principle, our answers to inquiries are prompt and open. In 2014, for example, we provided LobbyControl with a statement on our activities and answered a question from Greenpeace about the German energy revolution or “Energiewende”.
Part of the Democratic Process of Handling Differences of Opinion
Lobbying does not enjoy a good reputation, especially in Germany. It is said that lobbyists are used by associations and businesses to exert influence on political decisions by obscure means, and that they frequently resort to dubious methods. The automotive industry in particular is accused of exploiting its economic power and thereby undermining the democratic process of formulating objectives.
Nobody would deny that lobbyists can stray from the straight and narrow. Rule-breaking, and corruption in particular, must be punished. On the other hand this general rejection of lobbying, and the widespread aversion in Germany to the supposed egoism of the stakeholder groups, are exaggerated and unacceptable – after all, they are based on pre-democratic ideals.
In a pluralist society it is necessary – and perfectly legitimate – to represent particular interests vis-à-vis politicians. It is not only large corporate groups that engage in lobbying – trade unions, religious groups and environmental associations do so as well (and sometimes exhibit greater skill in equating their concerns with the public interest). Ultimately what matters is that all stakeholder interests are heard and weighed up in the political process. That is the essence of democracy.
The Volkswagen Group has 118 production locations and nearly 600,000 employees worldwide. A company with such a great responsibility for vocational education and training, employment and regional development, prosperity and quality of life has to have a fundamental interest in ensuring that political decisions are taken on the basis of objective considerations and do not place obstacles in the way of future business success.
Politicians have to rely on the expertise of the social and business players, on the knowledge and experience of those in the front line. We at Volkswagen assure politicians of full and open information and reliable and competent advice. We believe in the kind of lobbying that aims to convince people with better arguments and is prepared to expose itself to public criticism.
During 2014 we again engaged in a thorough discussion of the guiding principles of our work as a political stakeholder group, and signed them off at the beginning of 2015. They are available to everyone on the Internet, and you are welcome to comment on them. 15
To ensure a systematic approach to stakeholder management within the Group, in 2014 we introduced an IT-based issue and stakeholder module. This will help to assess the importance of individual stakeholder groups and link this evaluation with the assessment of issues. It thus forms the basis for a stakeholder-oriented issues management system which supports the Group’s reputation and ensures closer coordination of the brands’ stakeholder activities.
Stakeholder Panel and Evaluation
In cooperation with the Institute for Market, Environment and Society (imug) we established a stakeholder panel which has followed our activities, especially our environmental and sustainability activities, for the past 18 years and produces a critical commentary every year. During the past year this procedure, which had involved detailed interviews with 33 representatives of various stakeholder groups, was extended to take in a further 18 international stakeholder representatives. This paved the way for interesting comparisons and improved our understanding of expectations outside the European region. The purpose of this evaluation is to constantly reassess and improve the sustainability report, its impact and its benefits for the target groups. Furthermore, stakeholders’ assessments often provide an indication of weaknesses in our Group-wide sustainability coordination. The 2013 Group Sustainability Report was generally very well received, though the international stakeholder representatives rated it better than the German ones.
At the second Audi Stakeholder Forum in Berlin in 2014 the focus was on future mobility.
Assessment of the 2013 Group Sustainability Report
The assessment of the 2013 Group Sustainability Report by the extended stakeholder panel proved positive. The main suggestions for improvement included: providing more opportunities for dialogue, taking a more open approach to critical issues, describing conflicts of objectives, and formulating clearer and more far-reaching objectives. At a meeting on November 20, 2014, representatives of the stakeholder panel stressed the need to focus on important topics, identify dilemmas and outline a perspective running beyond the year 2018. The present report takes up these suggestions with the comprehensive materiality analysis (pages 16 – 18), the statement on special focus topics (see "Strategy“, "Economy, "Environment") and a full account of future challenges and strategic guidelines (see "Strategy", "Economy", "People" und "Environment"). A summary of the extended stakeholder panel’s assessment of the 2013 Group Sustainability Report is available on the Internet. 17
Stakeholder Dialogue at Brand and Company Level
Once a year we use the “Stimmungsbarometer”, our standardized Group-wide employee opinion survey, to measure employee satisfaction. In recent years the Audi, MAN, Porsche, SEAT, Volkswagen and Volkswagen Financial Services brands have also conducted extensive and detailed stakeholder surveys, usually online, which have yielded valuable findings for identifying issues of importance for the Group as a whole. All in all, the surveys covered some 126,000 stakeholder respondents, though it should be noted that 120,000 of these were due to the Volkswagen brand’s customer survey. In the meantime the brands have largely moved on to more individual and differentiated forms of stakeholder dialogue, with the aim of acquiring more detailed information about individual issues or about the expectations of specific stakeholder groups.
Brand Dialogues and Forums
In October 2014 Audi held its second stakeholder forum: some 120 participants met in Berlin to discuss future mobility and the role that digital data will play in this context. The focus was on issues arising from networking of vehicles with each other, with the infrastructure and with the driver. Core findings from the forum are fed into the development of Audi’s technologies of the future. Audi also offers its employees the opportunity to discuss corporate responsibility and sustainability with representatives of business, academia, politics and NGOs: the series of lectures on “Responsibility Perspectives” looks into future issues, business and social developments and the associated challenges.
Early in 2014, MAN invited students of the master’s course in “Sustainable Marketing & Leadership” at the Fresenius University in Munich to take part in a joint discussion to assess MAN’s Corporate Responsibility Strategy and goals, and its performance from the point of view of future managers. The findings resulted in a statement which contained both praise and criticism and was published as the Challenger Statement in the 2014 MAN CR Report.
For the past 16 years Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles has been engaged in a dialogue with its neighbors at the Hanover location in Germany, because the factory is situated close to residential areas. For some years now, similar discussions have also been taking place at our Pozna´n location in Poland. Meetings are held every six months to discuss stakeholders’ concerns and misgivings with a view to finding joint solutions. These are attended not only by local residents, but also by representatives of local authorities, official bodies and religious groups.
Cooperation for Sustainability
Both the Volkswagen Group and the individual brands have long been engaged in close cooperation with official bodies, local authorities, and organizations representing environmental and social concerns. This is prompted by a desire not only to play a supportive role in society, but also to find out more about external perspectives of the Group’s activities. In 2014, in addition to its long-standing partnership with Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU), the Volkswagen Group entered into cooperation with the German Red Cross. This was preceded by a phase of building mutual trust and comparing expectations. This cooperation began on a project-specific basis in the field of rescue services in Germany and innovations in first aid training. The Group’s established cooperation partners also include GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH), SOS Kinderdorf (MAN), and “My Finance Coach” to promote general financial education (Volkswagen Financial Services).
Cooperation with NABU
Naturschutzbund Deutschland e.V. (NABU) is accompanying us in a process of “critical dialogue” on our way to becoming the most sustainable automaker. In 2014 the issues at the heart of this ongoing technical exchange of views were once again climate protection, resource efficiency and biodiversity. In October 2014 Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the Group Board of Management, held a summit meeting with NABU President Olaf Tschimpke. As well as communication, environment, sales and financial services, the dialogue covered the service field and – for the first time ever – the logistics sector. A “Mobile Dialogue” forum in Berlin with experts from politics and public authorities engaged in close scrutiny of Volkswagen’s environmental protection as a whole. A major moorland protection conference in June 2014 generated further political momentum. On a smaller scale we also had a number of meetings with representatives of other environmental NGOs to discuss issues such as refrigerants in air-conditioning systems. The partners again mobilized a broad public for joint objectives in the field of environmental protection and nature conservation (e.g. “Smart driving saves fuel” training courses, the “Welcome Wolf!” cross-media campaign, marketing relating to moorland conservation, and promotion of renaturing program for the River Havel). With its broad spectrum of issues and fields and types of action, the dialogue and project partnership with NABU, which in its fifteenth year can itself claim to be sustainable, has become a model of cross-sectoral cooperation between companies and NGOs. We use a bundle of indicators to measure its success, for example the willingness of politicians and the public to participate, the market response to the eco-leasing program, the satisfaction expressed by NABU, and their readiness to put in a good word for us vis-à-vis third parties. We provide extensive information – not least online – on the progress of the projects. A blog invites committed members of the public to engage in dialogue.