Politics and business work hand in hand in many areas. That makes sense and is also necessary. But where is the boundary between constructive cooperation and hidden representation of interests away from the public eye? The brewery group has defined a clear and binding stance here as part of its compliance responsibility. Angelika Thielen, Head of Corporate Communications at the Bitburger Brewery Group, explains what this means in concrete terms.
Sustainable working and thinking – this also includes the increasingly important and comprehensive complex that is usually summarized under the English term compliance. Compliance – literally translated, it means adherence to rules, but this is of course not an easy way to summarize such a multi-layered and complex area. And living and fully identifying with compliance on a daily basis, especially in the area of politics and business, requires one thing above all else in addition to firm rules: a clear attitude to which the company and the people associated with it remain true, even when difficult situations or possible conflicts of interest arise.
To live compliance, you need not only rules but also a clear attitude.
Clear positioning and attitude
A recurring aspect that is always very much in the public eye is the cooperation between politics and business. It is undisputed that successful cooperation between the two is an important prerequisite for a flourishing economy and responsible political action. But where is the line between constructive and necessary cooperation and the fraternization between politics and business, which is viewed very critically by many citizens and usually takes place off the public stage and away from media coverage? There is no line drawn with a ruler here, but there is the possibility of taking a clear position, as we as a brewery group do quite clearly: We are politically neutral, we do not provide financial or material support for political events of any kind – regardless of party – and, as official representatives of the brewery group, we do not attend any events that have no objective reason but are exclusively intended to bring together business and political representatives on an informal basis. This also applies to our work in and with various industry associations and their social gatherings. And our sites are not a platform for campaign events, especially during election campaigns, no matter what kind or how high-ranking the announced representatives may be. This stance, which we also took very stringently during the last federal election campaign in 2017, has earned us a great deal of sympathy and appreciation, particularly from the people who are close to our hearts, namely our customers and consumers.
And let there be no misunderstanding: Of course, every employee has the unrestricted right to become politically involved and take a stand. However, this personal commitment – whether actively as a party member or verbally via social media channels, for example – always takes place as a private person and not as a representative of the company, which must also be clearly evident to everyone involved.
Honest and open communication
Of course, we are also driven by political issues that affect our company or our business decisions: Just think of the recurring topic of alcohol policy and the continuing tendencies on the part of political parties to focus more on laws and bans instead of prevention and responsibility. As a brewery group, we are also consulted on these issues and naturally have a clear position and opinion on them – but we express this publicly and in a way that is comprehensible to all, and not at non-public meetings with politicians or political representatives. This is because we are firmly convinced that honest and open communication on important topics for the industry, but also for society, is most respected and honored by people and thus also consumers.
After all, compliance is much more than just adherence to rules; it is an expression and symbol of a company’s self-image. Of course, compliance-conforming behavior in dealing with politicians and political issues confronts every company and every employee with important decisions time and again. Our company also has clear rules and guidelines for this. But borderline cases or special situations that do not always allow an immediate yes or no answer crop up again and again.
In borderline cases, experience and common sense also help.
And sometimes, in addition to experience and common sense, a phrase that everyone still remembers from their grandparents also helps: ‘That’s not proper’ was their yardstick in ethical and moral questions. Which ultimately means that things are not permitted simply because they are not prohibited from a legal perspective.”