“Business and Human Rights” in the Volkswagen Group
High regard and respect for human rights are a top priority at Volkswagen: we are convinced that sustainable economic operations are only possible by acting ethically and with integrity. We are fully committed to our responsibility for human rights in the context of our business operations. We affirm our commitment to the relevant
international conventions and declarations, in particular the International Human Rights Charter and the core labour standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
*We structure our business operations in line with the UN Guiding Principles for “Business and Human Rights” (UNGP). The ten principles of the UN Global Compact are crucial guiding pillars for the activities of our Group. In accordance with the UNGP, we respect universal human rights, even in states where national laws fall short of the level of protection provided by international standards and we promote the advancement of the latter.
By continuously enhancing our processes, systems and by means of forward-thinking action, we strive to claim a leading role in the automotive industry in regard to corporate respect for human rights. There is a long tradition of social sustainability within the Volkswagen Group – at all times in consultation with the workforce and our social partners. This results in the following work priorities, the “salient business and human rights issues”:
We work to ensure that good working conditions, as well as freedom of association and collective bargaining are upheld within the Volkswagen Group and the Group’s affiliated companies. Serious breaches of human rights such as child or forced labour are unacceptable. On the topic of working conditions, we refer to our current statement on the British “Modern Slavery Act”, as well as to the Code of Conduct and Code of Conduct for Business Partners.
Tolerant and non-discriminatory cooperation is important to us. We promote equal opportunities for all employees and value cultural diversity, respectful interaction with each other and mutual respect.
If a person’s safety is jeopardized, we react immediately, appropriately, and adequately.
Our commitment to “business and human rights” is manifested in the following documents, which have been adopted by the Group Board of Management.
In particular, these include the following:
• Declaration by the Volkswagen Group on social rights, industrial relations and “business & human rights” (Declaration on Social Rights): the Declaration on Social Rights concluded with the social partners stipulates the binding principles for the Volkswagen Group’s social and industrial relations, both internally and with its business partners. In addition, the Volkswagen Group sets principles and targets as a component of its corporate responsibility, in particular the human rights duty of care. At the same time, the Declaration on Social Rights serves as a mission statement for business and human rights.
• Code of Conduct (CoC): The CoC is the binding action guideline for all employees of the Volkswagen Group and the basis of the Compliance Management System (CMS). The CoC provides practical support and guidance in everyday work. The chapter, “Our responsibility as a member of society,” is dedicated to the topics of human rights, equal opportunity and equal treatment. All employees across the Group receive regular training on the CoC.
• Code of Conduct for Business Partners (CoC BP): In this document, the Volkswagen Group formulates its expectations regarding the attitude and behaviour of its business partners in their business operations. Human and employment rights are central requirements.
More information about policies can be found here.
Neighbourhood and society
As a member of society, our responsibility is not limited to the company premises. We consider the impact that our corporate activities have on our neighbourhoods, local communities and the society in general – in short, all groups of people who are affected. Where possible, we engage in a dialogue with our stakeholders, and take the necessary measures where relevant to safeguard human rights effectively.** We respect the rights of the stakeholders concerned, in particular those of vulnerable groups. This also applies to environmental incidents with human rights implications.***
In-house departments such as “Volkswagen Sustainability” and the “Social Business Team” deal with specific social projects and partnerships that can make a positive contribution to the promotion of human rights.
In the Volkswagen Group, there is a constant dialogue and close coordination between the various functions, departments and the Group entities on the focus area of business and human rights. The Group function “Center of Competence Group Business and Human Rights” is part of the Group Compliance division. We enshrine our human rights duty of care by integrating the focus area “business and human rights” into our existing Compliance Management System (CMS). Integration follows the UN requirements and guidance for business and human rights due diligence. Essential components are: 1) detecting risks, 2) mitigating risks, 3) accompanying and supporting the implementation of measures and 4) reporting.
In compliance a risk-based approach is applied to categorised corporate human rights risks, to make these transparent and to minimise these risks: The company sites are regularly categorised. This may result in more detailed on-site analyses if indications with potential human rights impacts necessitate this. Preventative measures add to this approach, such as training for employees and contractors to adapt or raise awareness for the management systems. The CMS is subject to continuous monitoring and improvement.
In case of corporate human rights violations grievance and whistleblower schemes are in place. Violations can be reported by anyone through the Whistleblower System.
External reporting on the focus area of “business and human rights” is the joint responsibility of Group Coordination “Business
& Human Rights” and Group Sustainability.
Further details can be found in our current Sustainability Report.
* The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is codified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The UN Guidelines for Business and Human Rights are linked to the relevant OECD guiding principles for multinational companies. Of particular relevance are the OECD guiding principles on the fulfilment of due diligence to supporting responsible supply chains for minerals from conflict zones and high-risk areas. More information about policies can be found here.
** Cf. UN guideline 18, which necessitates a comprehensive business analysis regarding affected groups of persons in the context of due diligence to human rights, independent from one’s own workforce.
*** Further information on ecological sustainability at Volkswagen can be found at https://www.volkswagenag.com/en/sustainability/environment.html