Stakeholder management

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.

G4-21, G4-24, G4-26, G4-27

Find a list of stakeholder dialogues in 2014 here 13

DIALOGUE with politicians

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. 14

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”.

Focus topic

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.

Dr. Thomas Steg, Volkswagen Group General
Representative for External Relations
and Government Relations

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 16

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

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

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