Gütersloh, 02/25/2021

Bertelsmann Executive Board decides on further development of Corporate Responsibility

Immanuel Hermreck

Subject: Media & Services, Employees, Environment, Society
Country: International
Category: Project

At the end of last year, the Group-wide internal and external stakeholder survey on Corporate Responsibility (CR) was completed. The objective was to identify Bertelsmann's future CR priorities. Bertelsmann Chief Human Resources Officer Immanuel Hermreck explains the background to the survey – and what is now following from it.

Mr. Hermreck, the Bertelsmann Executive Board approved eight CR priorities at its most recent meeting. What are they – and above all: How did this selection come about?

The range of CR topics is enormous, and that's why it's important for us to set priorities: Priorities for Bertelsmann as a Group and priorities in the divisions. Topics such as content responsibility, learning, responsibility in the supply chain, but also climate change and health are becoming increasingly important for our businesses and employees. Against this backdrop, it is definitely a challenge to decide which CR topics we want to focus on: Which topics are relevant to several divisions and should therefore be addressed Group-wide? Where can we leverage synergies?

It is now common practice for companies to regularly conduct "relevance analyses" to determine a company's CR priorities. Our last relevance analysis was carried out in 2017 – so it was time again. We had a number of pre-selected topics evaluated by internal as well as external stakeholders. This ensures that we not only analyze Bertelsmann CR topics from our own internal perspective, but also compare them with the expectations of key external stakeholders. In selecting the stakeholders for the Corporate Center, we were supported by various departments – from Corporate Finance to Purchasing to Corporate Communications. Of course, the divisions selected their stakeholders themselves.

What was the response like?

In the end, 632 participants shared their views on Corporate Responsibility with us. It is exciting to read the feedback from stakeholders to our open questions and to see which topics are rated as relevant in the divisions. We received clear indications of where we can still improve. We discussed – and approved – the results at our most recent Executive Board meeting. The new eight Bertelsmann CR priorities are: Creative/Editorial Independence & Freedom of Expression, Content Responsibility, Fair Working Conditions, Diversity & Inclusion, Health & Well-being, Learning, Responsibility in the Supply Chain, and Climate Change.

You just mentioned the Bertelsmann CR Council. Can you tell us more about its role and tasks?

The further development of Corporate Responsibility at Bertelsmann is high on my agenda. That's why it's important to me that we also make progress on this topic as Bertelsmann as a whole, i.e., together with the divisions. And that is why I re-established the Bertelsmann CR Council in March 2015. We then gradually brought top executives from all divisions with operational responsibility on board. It's obvious: Everything that happens or doesn't happen in terms of CR in the divisions has a direct impact on how Bertelsmann is perceived – for better or for worse. In the CR Council, we exchange views closely on how we can move forward together. We want to shape processes in such a way that CR becomes even more of a natural part of our corporate activities.

What is the basis for this?

This approach is anchored in the Bertelsmann Essentials: "We’re mindful of the impact we have on society and environment, and we seek to make a positive difference." it says. Everyone at Bertelsmann can and should contribute to this. Ultimately, the question is: What kind of company do we want to be? I am always impressed by the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit – driven by their own initiative – with which some areas of our organization are already addressing Corporate Responsibility. However, we are also noticing that the external demands on us are constantly increasing, both from our customers and as a result of new legal requirements for CR reporting. So we can't afford to stand still at all. But I am sure that this is not an option for our colleagues on the CR Council.

So what insights have been gained from the CR stakeholder survey?

First of all, it's reassuring to see that most stakeholders – internally and externally and across all divisions – generally perceive us as a responsible organization. Nevertheless, they clearly formulate their expectations of Corporate Responsibility at Bertelsmann. In essence, they expect three things: First, they expect us to raise the bar for our CR commitment higher in some areas; second, they expect us to link CR more visibly with our business strategy; and third, they expect us to anchor CR more deeply in our core business processes. This also includes setting Group-wide targets for our CR priorities, as we have already done for diversity and climate neutrality.

Aren't the results in the divisions very different given the diversity of our businesses?

Not at all, and that surprised me. The highly rated topics in the four surveyed categories of employees, environment, business and media content overlap strongly – despite the broad diversity of our business models. This makes it easier for us to identify Group-wide topics where all divisions can make a contribution. In this way, everyone can benefit from each other, and the Group as a whole becomes stronger.

Where do we go from here?

Each division is currently examining the results of its CR stakeholder survey and developing its own appropriate follow-up process. We on the Executive Board have clear expectations for the further development of the eight CR priorities at Bertelsmann – from diversity to supply chain. We will take a close look at each topic: Where do we stand today, and what should the future ambition level be for Bertelsmann and our divisions? At the end of the process, we will have a work program consisting of various measures that demonstrate a credible and strong commitment to CR at Bertelsmann. I look forward to continuing to work with the CR Council on this.

By the way: Our CR performance is evaluated annually by several CR rating agencies. We have continuously improved in recent years, and we on the Executive Board want it to stay that way. This not only helps us meet the increasing requirements of our business partners, but also the regulatory ones. We also want our employees to be proud of their company and enjoy working for Bertelsmann – and that is a major concern for me as Chief Human Resources Officer.