Everyone has rights

Companies operating globally have a responsibility and obligation to respect human rights in their business relationships and at all locations worldwide. Jasmin Lotze, Compliance Consultant for Business and Human Rights and Sarah Schwellinger, responsible for sustainability in the supply chain at Audi, told us how Audi is doing that.

Reading Time: 4 min

Audi has more than 40 organizations worldwide, with more than 87,000 employees and tens of thousands of business partners – so the company bears extremely great responsibility.

Jasmin Lotze, Compliance Consultant for Business and Human Rights

Consistent respect for human rights is in keeping with the Audi self-image. It is therefore embedded in the Audi Code of Conduct, which is binding for all Audi employees. Standing up for these rights is a duty. “We must consistently ensure that we take respect for human rights into account in all processes. Our Compliance Management System (CMS) helps us implement this systematically”, says Jasmin Lotze. Audi manages the issue of human rights from within the Compliance department – with many interfaces throughout the entire company. Important components of the Compliance Management System include creating and facilitating a compliance and integrity culture, risk analyses and raising awareness among employees and partners through training.

Prioritizing according to risks

“In fact, the term ‘human rights’ covers a wide range of issues, including the right to health and safety at work, the right not to be discriminated against and, naturally, the prohibition of child and forced labor as well,” says Jasmin Lotze.

Infografik: Human Rights Compliance: Toleranz (Diversität; Schutz verletzlicher, insbesondere indigener Gruppen; keine Diskriminierung, insbesondere am Arbeitsplatz; Toleranz gegenüber unterschiedlichen Meinungen), Sicherheit (Gewährleistung der Sicherheit von Personen; keine Mitwirkung an jeglichen rechtswidrigen Handlungen), Arbeitsrechte (Vereinigungsfreiheit und Kollektivverhandlungen; keine Zwangsarbeit; keine Kindearbeit; gute Arbeitsbedingungen)

The globally operating automotive industry is considered a high-risk industry with respect to human rights. Audi is therefore actively involved in the “Automotive industry dialogue on respect for human rights in global supply and value chains” as part of the German government’s National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights (NAP) – together with representatives from science, politics and civil society. Audi therefore not only sets high standards internally but also endeavors to uphold our values and principles along the value chain as well.

Living a shared value system

  

Sarah Schwellinger, responsible for sustainability in the supply chain at Audi

Sarah Schwellinger, responsible for sustainability in the supply chain at Audi

Audi stands for “Vorsprung durch Technik.” The company’s aim is to be a pioneer in social issues as well. In other words, to act sustainably, to influence, to change things for the better, and to live diligence. In the age of globalization and an increasingly complex supply chain, the company influences the working conditions of employees worldwide. Sarah Schwellinger, who is responsible for sustainability in the supply chain at Audi, says: “We usually have indirect influence – sometimes even direct influence – on all people involved in the supply chain, their work, lives and families. We want to handle this responsibly and leave behind a positive impact.”

The challenges in the supply chain are great: More than 14,000 direct suppliers from more than 60 countries around the world must be integrated and managed within a shared value system. The Code of Conduct for business partners of the Volkswagen Group summarizes the expectations we place on our partners in the process.

Holistic sustainability as a guiding principle

  

Jasmin Lotze, Compliance Consultant for Business and Human Rights.

Jasmin Lotze, Compliance Consultant for Business and Human Rights.

The central instrument for checking these expectations is the “Sustainability Rating” ( S-Rating) introduced in 2017; this has been mandatory throughout the Volkswagen Group since 2019. It examines the sustainability behavior of direct business partners in the supply chain with regard to human rights, occupational safety and environmental protection risks. Companies must develop official guidelines, embed them within the company and communicate them to employees. If a potential supplier falls through the rating grid, it has the opportunity to optimize its standards within a defined period of time.

If, for example, an on-site inspection reveals that no precautions have been taken in fire protection, that fire extinguishers were defective or incorrectly installed, or that escape routes are blocked, this leads to a negative rating. “This is no small matter – it endangers people’s lives in an emergency,” says Sarah Schwellinger. Sources of danger like these must be eliminated immediately. Appropriate documentation of this must be provided. If these shortcomings cannot be rectified, Audi terminates its cooperation with the supplier. “It is not just a matter of revealing problems but also of solving them together,” she clarifies. 

It is important that those who are affected or their representatives are also present in these initiatives.

Sarah Schwellinger, sustainability in the supply chain at Audi

Tackling shortcomings together

Systematically integrating human rights into the supply chain requires strong alliances and cooperation with other companies, civil society and rights holders.

This is why Audi is a member of the Global Battery Alliance, which is concerned with protecting human rights in the mining of battery raw materials. After all, the automotive industry is dependent worldwide on raw materials such as bauxite, lithium or copper, which are mined in regions with weak government regulation, among other things. In a network of renowned companies, solutions are developed and measures are adopted that can only be jointly implemented. “It is important that those who are affected or their representatives are also present in these initiatives,” explains Sarah Schwellinger. “It is only in this way that we can involve those people whose rights are affected by our activities in our processes.” Audi is also part of the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI). Here as well, the members ensure, among other things, that human rights are respected along the value chains. “At ASI, representatives of indigenous peoples are an integral part of the organizational structure. But communication with trade union representatives also plays an important role,” tells us Sarah Schwellinger.

And in the future?

  

Countries around the world have responded to the guiding principles of the United Nations – especially during the last decade – and have issued stricter regulations for companies. There are also initiatives from Germany’s federal government for due diligence legislation, as there are at EU level.

Jasmin Lotze is well aware that all these measures to respect human rights within the context of corporate responsibility require long-term and relentless commitment: “As a globally active company, we must of course ensure that we design processes in our own sphere of activity in such a way that they are in line with international conventions for the protection of human rights. Ultimately, it is always a matter of putting the focus on the human being and on respecting their rights.”

Audi has the following complaint and whistleblowing mechanisms in place for potential corporate human rights violations:

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