On a narrow ridge

On a narrow ridge

Political statements by company bosses between social relevance, economic necessity and legal framework conditions.

A guest article by Sabine Clausecker and Christoph von Arnim


Europe has voted - and the result should be a wake-up call for us all. The anti-European, right-wing populist parties between the North Sea and the Mediterranean made significant gains, with the AfD achieving almost 16% in Germany. In eastern Germany, the right-wing populists are by far the strongest force with more than 27% of the vote. This is also the case in Brandenburg, where the state parliament will be re-elected in September.

To what extent is social peace in the capital region at risk if the Remigration supporters also achieve an election success of this magnitude in the fall? How much will the international reputation and attractiveness of our location suffer? It is not only the heads of the major corporations Mercedes-Benz and Siemens who are urgently warning against hatred and agitation in Germany. There is also growing concern in the boardrooms of Berlin and Brandenburg's business community about the increasing spread of anti-democratic and racist ideas. And with them the pressure to take action themselves.  

In fact, more and more company bosses are speaking out clearly. In February of this year, for example, 40 of the VBKI Forum CEOs for Berlin in the Berlin-Brandenburg metropolitan region took a stand against right-wing extremism in a joint declaration. With this form of public positioning, they are also responding to an expectation that they face as social "leaders" in the age of hyper-transparency. CEOs are now regarded as the universal mouthpiece of their organizations. In 2022, 70% of DAX 40 CEOs already had their own social media profile online. Recent studies also show that employees place more trust in a "connected leader" than a company boss who remains silent. Attitude and orientation are demanded from top management.

"Current studies also show that employees place more trust in a "connected leader" than in a company boss who remains silent. Attitude and orientation are demanded from top management."

Germany has over 40 million employees. They all spend a large part of their time at work. In the canteens and coffee kitchens of this republic, opinions come together that have not been pre-sorted by digital filters. Here, in the workplace environment, democratic values can be exemplified, a civilized culture of discussion can be promoted and a competent scope of information can be communicated. This represents a significant opportunity for this country. It is the responsibility of employers to seize this opportunity.  

However, socio-politically committed company bosses walk a fine line: if they campaign too strongly against political movements that have long been anchored in the hearts and minds of their employees, they risk losing acceptance. If they hold back, they fail to live up to their leadership role and miss the opportunity to position themselves and the company.

And not everyone can act as freely in their statements as Nomos and Würth recently did: the watch manufacturer from Saxony and the screw producer from Baden-Württemberg have clearly advised their employees not to vote for the AfD. Both companies are family businesses and are subject to lower legal restrictions than listed companies. Their management boards manage third-party assets and are accountable to all stakeholders, employees and shareholders alike. They must also comply with the strict legal requirements for the publication of information relevant to the capital market.

However, Management Board members may also make political statements within the scope of the management authority delegated to them. There is no obligation to remain neutral. However, the well-being of the company must be kept in mind as well as the general limits of free expression of opinion. This is because it is not always possible to clearly distinguish between private and official opinions.

The situation is different for managing directors of limited liability companies and partnerships, who are directly responsible to their shareholders and should not make political statements without their involvement.


What maxims should business leaders follow today if they want to demonstrate a credible attitude?

1. the external positioning should have a connection to the company and be justified in the corporate context. In this way, the communicator proves that they are acting out of responsibility for and in the interests of the company - and not just expressing their personal opinion.

2. the public statements of the bosses should always be in line with the corporate culture practiced internally. A consistent appearance in all directions is a basic prerequisite for broad acceptance.

3. the order of communication must be observed. The rule is: internal before external. Employees must be informed before communicating externally. Public statements that cannot be understood internally damage credibility.

4 Every company should lay down its values in a code of conduct in a coherent and comprehensible manner and live them in everyday life. Ideally, these values should be developed with the involvement of employees.

5. the dialog between managers and employees must be conducted with care and should leave no room for misunderstandings. Clarity creates trust. Rumors must be countered quickly.

6. breaches of the rules - especially if they violate fundamental values of the corporate culture - must be sanctioned. This is not about pillorying individual employees. Rather, the aim is to strengthen credibility and the ability to act within the company.

7 The communication channels also play a role. For political statements, personal social media presences can be more suitable than indirect communication via mass media due to better controllability. Nothing is more annoying than being misquoted. In addition, interviews or opinion articles in reputable media that are appropriate to the occasion and industry are a good idea.

8. company bosses increase the credibility of their political commitment by following up words with concrete measures. Training courses and workshops are conceivable in which current topics such as fake news, bot manipulation or agitation by influencers are explained. These training courses should be conducted by reputable external partners.

In times of multiple crises and major social upheaval, companies and their managers are called upon to act as socially visible players. Competent management of overarching issues that have a direct impact on the company's success is expected - both in the context of stakeholders and among employees: Political stability, social cohesion, openness to the world and the preservation of our liberal democratic order.

About the authors:

Sabine Clausecker is co-chair of the VBKI Economic Policy Committee and board member of CBE DIGIDEN AG - Agency for Communication

Christoph von Arnim is Co-Chairman of the VBKI Committee Business & Ethics and lawyer and partner at FPS Partnerschaftsgesellschaft von Rechtsanwälten mbB

This article was published on June 12, 2024 (online) and June 13, 2024 (print) in the Tagesspiegel.


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