Political sustainability needs corporate action
To a large extent, business success depends on political conditions, which until now have not received enough support from economic actors. Examples include the rule of law, pluralist debate, high-quality education, modern infrastructure, and resilient health care systems. All societal stakeholders, including business, profit from and should therefore invest in such collective goods.
CPR therefore is a strategic concept for companies to position themselves in the public realm. There are plenty of opportunities to seize at the interface between politics and business. Companies should think of investment not only in economic but also in political terms – and thus beyond money channeled into research and development, personnel, or machines. CPR highlights the political, and not merely the social and ecological framework in which businesses operate. It can be seen as the strategic evolution of CSR. In the end, CPR is about business strengthening the democratic state for mutual benefit. And this is a business case, not least because it offers new and lasting chances to strengthen the brand.
The CSR or CR concept is the predominant approach to corporate responsibility activities. ESG standards (Ecological, Social, Governance) also play an increasingly important role. The focus here is on social and ecological concerns, while political references tend to remain the exception. This also applies to the concept of corporate citizenship, although, at least nominally, it has a stronger political nexus. The point here is not to play off political against social and ecological categories, but to outline a comprehensive concept of sustainability that understands the former as enriching the latter.
The reference to the political underscores the importance of strategic competence - prudence in defining goals and means while taking into account limited resources and conflicting interests. Without such skills, CSR measures risk running empty, especially in times of political crisis. By supplementing or strategically underpinning CSR with CPR, companies assume their share of responsibility for the political and institutional order. Thinking far ahead, CPR can even be understood as a bracket for sustainable corporate responsibility, because ultimately the social and the ecological are only facets of the political.
From CSR to CPR
The Logic of CPR
1. There is no strict separation between business and politics. Corporate activities always take place within a socio-political and institutional context.
2. Businesses are already political players. As taxpayers, employers, trainers, innovators, and lobbyists, they influence the legislative process and the community.
3. Globalization and digitalization impair the ability of the state to provide governance. As the main drivers of these developments, companies present a particular challenge to the state’s ability to shape policy. However, they can use their resources to provide governance services in support of statehood.
4. People have ever-higher expectations of companies. Customers, employees, and the public demand a purpose that goes beyond profit.
5. Politics is more than party politics. In a democracy, everyone can and must contribute to functioning public goods.
6. Companies should not only invest in buildings, machinery, and employees, but also in the political and social conditions for their own long-term success.
7. Companies can apply concrete methods to build their political brand and take on an active public role. To do so, they must systematically develop their political resources.
8. Companies can become active in at least four fields of action: from responsible lobbying, socio-political statements and dialogues, and projects of political participation to the strengthening of public goods.
9. The UN sustainability goals can serve as signposts for CPR if their political relevance is recognized. This is expressed primarily in Goal 16 “Peace, justice, and strong institutions.”
10. The scope of CPR measures is limited by the rules of the democratic process. The primacy of the political must be preserved.
Conclusion: With CPR, companies can strengthen democracy and thus themselves. Politically, they should be non-partisan about specific issues but take sides if our liberal way of life is at stake.