CORPORATE CITIZENSHIP Companies Need to Engage in Politics

The business community has long talked about the need for corporate social responsibility. The refugee crisis proves corporations also need to take political responsibility, now more than ever before.
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When the chancellor responds to the refugee crisis by saying, "We will handle it!" she above all means us – citizens, companies and employees.

We are inviting refugees into our homes, volunteering and even setting up school programs. This engagement is a social act with winners on both sides. We are caring for our future colleagues, customers and fellow taxpaying citizens. But this engagement is also an eminently political act, rooted in a sense of shared responsibility to society as a whole.

If you ask a company what it's doing to fulfill its responsibility to society, you'll probably get referred to its department of corporate social responsibility. These departments are tasked with making a company's business model socially and ecologically sustainable.

It's mostly a theoretical concept because corporate strategy and corporate social responsibility departments almost never work hand in hand. And the word "social" fails to encompass the full extent of a company's relationship with the community.

Corporations are also political actors. As employers and innovators, they influence the structures of society. They do this mainly by engaging in the legislative and regulatory process,  and through associations, representatives and direct contact.

Corporations are also political actors. As employers and innovators, they influence the structures of society.

This engagement creates responsibility, but it's not about finger wagging. First and foremost, there are business opportunities in the expectations of enlightened citizens and customers. This is the starting point for a new concept, known as corporate political responsibility.

This doesn't mean that companies have to support a political party. They should be open to a broader definition of what's political. Only when companies take the political expectations of their customers seriously can they begin to fully exploit their business potential.

When a company finds opportunities to train refugees, for example, this is an inherently political process. The company shows society ways to support integration and also obtains highly motivated new employees.

The damage done to the state of Saxony's image by the protests by the far-right Pegida group could have been mitigated by greater political engagement on the part of the corporate community. Companies could have strengthened Saxony by creating platforms for dialogue and accompanying the debate over a phenomena relevant to society in a constructive way.

Corporate political responsibility aims to create advantages for both sides – business and the community as whole. Public issues are regulated not just by the state, which is often overwhelmed by socially complex questions.

Companies can contribute their resources to stabilizing the community and thereby making it a better place to do business. That's why taking a political stand is so important, and not just in the refugee crisis.


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