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Answering the Critics

Avoiding the pitfalls of political engagement

1. Do companies capture the state through CPR-led socio-political commitment? Do they not already have too much political power? Aren’t they already blatantly close to politics?

Sure, companies have political power, and there is no clear separation from politics. But it would be wrong to conclude that they should be kept out of politics artificially. On the contrary, companies should assume the responsibility that is theirs anyway—by strengthening state structures that are the foundation of their business. Companies must be honest and accept their role as the political actors they already are. It is a matter of productively integrating their enormous professional, financial, and organizational resources to address socio-political challenges. By taking on governance tasks, companies relieve the state, which can limit itself to its core functions and regain its capacity to act. This strengthens the primacy of the political. One thing must be clear: When companies operate in the public sphere, they are also subject to the democratic rules of the game. In particular, the exercise of coercion is reserved for the democratically legitimized powers.

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2. Where is the boundary between politics and business?

It is impossible to attempt an exhaustive definition of the boundary between politics and business as companies have a massive impact on highly sensitive areas such as internal and external security, health, or data and energy infrastructures. Even at its core, the state is therefore dependent on private sector know-how. As a functional demarcation, the state’s priority remains above all to establish law and enforce it by force. However, the concrete tasks that the state must perform cannot be determined a priori, but only case by case. The following criterion is suitable for this: When common goods are provided, both their quality and the legitimacy of the process of their creation must be guaranteed. Both requirements can come into conflict, yet in the long run, they converge. Without efficient common goods, there is no social legitimacy; and without social legitimacy, there are no efficient common goods.

3. Why should companies support the state now of all times?

The state is coming under pressure from populism, elite failure, nationalism, and democracy fatigue; CPR is a response to this overload. The traditional nation states are still the decisive political actors in international politics. Supranational entities such as the UN or the EU are massively shaped by nation-state interests, and global governance challenges are being discussed within the framework of the G20. But the speed of political processes lags far behind that of economic processes. Globalization and digitalization add to the complexity of transnational problems, and as a result, states are losing some of their ability to provide governance. At the same time, the demands on the states’ performance are increasing because in the digital age, citizens have access to comprehensive information—they are emancipating themselves. In addition, it is becoming apparent that companies play an increasingly important role on the political stage. As the main drivers of globalization and digitalization, companies are confronted with enormous challenges that paradoxically make them indispensable to their resolution, given their wealth of resources. CPR reacts to the increased expectations of state services and to the de facto political dimension of a corporate brand by linking them: When companies develop their political brand, they strengthen the state, meet society’s expectations, and thus invest in the foundations of their business.

4. Businesses fulfill a socio-political role simply by doing business. Is that not enough? Shouldn’t politics and business, in the sense of a division of labor, stick to their respective “core competencies”?

 In a modern, functionally differentiated society, division of labor is the rule and expressly desirable. It is an imperative of complexity. At the same time, boundaries between social sub-sectors such as politics and business serve to provide democratic legitimation. Politics, if completely occupied by business, would be “bought,” while a thoroughly politicized business sector would not permit any degree of private freedom. However, there is no strict categorical separation between politics and business. Companies are already political actors: as employers, trainers, taxpayers, and lobbyists. And they depend on intact public goods (legal and physical security, infrastructure, education, etc.) in their business activities. If companies recognize the political dimension of their existence, they can make the overlap with politics productive and thus strengthen the foundations of their business. Certainly, businesses per se fulfill an important social task through their services—otherwise they would not exist. But they possess extensive resources that they can also use to stabilize state governance. Such socio-political commitment enables win–win solutions for the state and the economy.

5. Is CPR really necessary? We already have CSR!

Certainly, companies engage in CSR and give an account of their activities in corresponding reports. However, it is obvious that CSR is often conducted in an unfocused manner. It has become a reservoir for broad-based commitment that is not necessarily aligned with the core business. There is a lack of strategic orientation. In addition, CSR is mostly used to address social and ecological problems, but the larger context of these problems is lost, namely, the political. For if companies really want to help the state, society, and themselves, they must contribute to a vibrant culture of debate and intact common goods. This includes public discussion forums, good education, a healthy environment, a functioning infrastructure, a reliable legal system, etc. Achieving this is a genuine political task. While “social” commitment includes all sorts of important things (to put it more polemically: nice things), “political” commitment addresses the basic conditions for successful business activity.

6. Isn’t it dangerous for companies to take a political stance? 

Some companies see politics as a “swamp,” as a jungle of interests that is difficult to understand and in which tactical power calculations make the efficient completion of tasks extremely difficult. In this respect, companies prefer to distance themselves from politics. However, CPR does not require companies to express themselves in a partisan way. That is not their job. This is a much broader concept of the political: At best, it is about the foundations of an open, free society, or at least about an adequate supply of public goods. Businesses should support this in their own interests. Companies that are committed to socio-political issues in the long term and credibly articulate their political interests gain economic advantages. Last but not least, companies address social expectations, especially of the younger generations, by taking a clear political stance. The reason is that there is less and less acceptance for companies as “political neutrals.” Defensive reflexes against the political must, therefore, be overcome: They usually stem from an abridged understanding of the term. A wider understanding would mean recognizing the political as a fundament for entrepreneurial activity.

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