Today, companies are rightly expected to focus not only on their immediate core tasks, such as generating profits, research and development, or employment. As good corporate citizens, they have a social responsibility that goes beyond. This also includes political advocacy. After all, weighing up different interests is essential in political decision-making. Political decision-makers must be as well informed as possible about the consequences or alternatives of their actions. Early information helps them to make the right decisions in due time and to reflect things properly. In this context transparency is not a contradiction - on the contrary. It is a comprehensible and supportable concern to understand the decision-making process and its participants. We therefore not only welcome the Lobby Register Act in Germany, but since 2008 we have also voluntarily registered ourselves in the Brussels Transparency Register of the European Union.
How to be a responsible advocate for corporate interests.
Protecting the climate is one of the existential challenges of our time. With the "Electric only" strategy, we at Mercedes-Benz are advancing the transformation to an emission-free and software-driven future. The more ambitious the targets set by politics become, the less they can be achieved by the automotive industry and its companies alone. The right political framework conditions are essential. This requires a dialogue between politics, business and society - and this is precisely where the work of External Affairs comes in.
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Advocates for corporate interests
Even though we repeatedly refer to “lobbying” in the following, we prefer the term "advocacy": We see ourselves as advocates for corporate interests in the political process. Advocacy is also less prejudiced and describes our activities more precisely.
We have long aligned our work for the Group with principles of lobbying based on integrity. The guiding principle here is to identify the overlap between corporate and public interest and to expand it wherever possible. This is a two-way process: On the one hand, it is important to align the company's actions with the legitimate concerns of society and politics beyond the mere compliance with legal requirements. On the other hand, successful companies are an indispensable prerequisite for a flourishing community simply through their tax payments, research activities and, not least, employment.
Trust is a decisive factor
Trust is a decisive factor in our work. That's why we base our activities on verifiable figures, data and facts and provide information about our interests and motives. Our contacts do not have to share our views, but they must be able to rely on the quality of our arguments. We use the "tabloid test" as an internal guideline: Are we always able to answer questions about our activities convincingly, even if they are reported in a pointed way?
We want to be open to other perspectives and also to alliances that may seem unusual at first glance. The transformation of the automotive industry, the challenges of digitalization and climate change in particular mean that we as a company must and want to be open to new alliances - whether with companies or associations from other sectors, with NGOs, or with works councils and trade unions in the transformation of our plants. We are convinced that the major tasks of our time, such as coping with climate change while maintaining and possibly even increasing competitiveness and social acceptance, can only be achieved together. This cooperative approach presupposes a willingness to compromise. For us, that means in particular: We want to be part of the solution.
Advocacy in the matrix organization
The Mercedes-Benz Group AG has bundled the worldwide representation of the company's interests in the External Affairs unit. We support the company in achieving its goals by establishing and maintaining dialogue with political stakeholders in key markets. In addition, we see ourselves as an internal service provider. We analyze developments around the world that could influence the success of our company - for example, in the area of trade policy or regulations - and support colleagues internationally and proactively with the help of our global network. Organizationally, we have a matrix structure. At our headquarters in Stuttgart, we deal with regulatory strategy, operational issues (i.e. issues relevant to our global production network), and the analysis of economic and political developments. In addition, there are offices in Berlin, Brussels, Washington and Beijing that maintain direct contact with decision-makers and keep their fingers on the pulse of political developments. Through our work, we make it clear to our dialogue partners what a political decision, that appears abstract at first glance, implies in concrete terms for the industry, a product, a site or the employees.
We regularly put ourselves and our work to the test. For example, we are currently running a project with the Wittenberg Center for Global Ethics. With the help of expert interviews with representatives of NGOs, think tanks, politics and administration, we are having our work processes independently evaluated in terms of integrity and ethical behavior, thus gaining valuable impetus from outside.
Modern advocacy in transition
From an advocacy perspective, the transformation we are undergoing as a company requires rapid action at all levels. In this context, our work is also changing in terms of goals, addressees and formats. In terms of addressees, we are seeking greater dialogue with NGOs and representatives of civil society.
Hybrid and digital event formats are gaining in importance. In addition, non-financial factors, often described by investors with the term ESG - "Environmental", "Social" and "Governance" - are taking up increasing space in both corporate strategy and advocacy.
Dialogue and cooperation
One example: For the Mercedes-Benz Group, the Paris climate protection agreement is more than an obligation - it is a conviction. Therefore, it is also part of the remit of External Affairs to position the company as a driving force on issues of sustainability and climate protection. At the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in 2021, for example, Mercedes-Benz was one of the 11 automakers that, together with 38 countries, signed a declaration of intent to bring only zero-emission vehicles to market in the foreseeable future.
In sum: Decisive for responsible advocacy are the dialogue and cooperation of politics, business, society and social partners, without questioning the primacy of politics. Dialogue and cooperation are part of the recipe for success of the social market economy and a prerequisite for the success of the change that lies ahead. In a democracy, the common good is decided through discourse, votes, elections and referendums. We want everyone to be able to participate appropriately in this process.