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D5 Raising social and ecological sectoral standards

A) Goal

The goal is for companies in a given sector to cooperate in regard to social and ecological aspects which are relevant for them, to find innovative solutions, get involved in existing initiatives (for ex. labels, voluntary sectoral standards) and make such information as transparent and accessible to competitors as possible so as to help raise the sectoral standards. At the political level, they push for higher and more differentiated framework conditions through measures which correspond to their size and importance.

Two different approaches for raising social and ecological sectoral standards are considered here: goals can be reached through a) cooperation with competitors and value-adding partners as well as through b) active, transparent participation in the political process.

a) Cooperation with competitors and value-adding partners: quite diverse measures can be taken to help raise social and ecological standards within a sector, among them mutual obligation to higher standards among market partners, participation in qualitative label processes [2], research & development. Active communication of such activities, a high degree of transparency and ensuring compliance, for example through cooperation with civic initiatives, play an essential role here. Cooperation should not be limited to direct competitors, but can and should also include upstream and downstream value creation stages (note potential overlapping with A1, D1, D4). If higher standards are an inherent component of the business model (for ex. niche suppliers of socially / ecologically leading products / services), this should also have a positive effect on the evaluation if an offer has been created which lies well above the standard.

b) Active contribution to higher legislative standards (responsible lobbying): depending on the size of the company and the specifics of the sector, various approaches towards raising legislative standards at the municipal, state or supranational level can be successful. In particular, “responsible lobbying” differs from classic lobbyism in regard to HOW political decision-makers cooperate (process) and WHAT issues the lobbying work addresses (content). Responsible lobbying fulfils two criteria:

  • Processes: the political communication of a company must be transparent and consistent. The goal which a company pursues through its lobbying and the tools it uses to do this must be clearly identifiable. The same message must be communicated to all discussion partners.
  • Content: lobbying goals must be reconcilable with goals of society as a whole and may not help certain individuals or groups acquire special privileges. They must harmonize with the sustainability strategy of the company in question.”[3]

Company size and the size and fragmentation of the sector, which can range from oligopolies to polypolies, play an essential role for evaluating which strategy is purposeful and viable. Moreover, initiatives taken to raise sectoral standards should be assessed in regard to their in-company scope as well as their substantive quality. In this sense, the term scope means the proportion of turnover, production and performance of products/services for which the higher standards actually apply. In regard to substantive quality it is a matter of the scope and depth of the aspects involved – whether raises in standards only pertains to isolated and marginal social and/or ecological aspects or several sector-relevant risks.

B) Prompt questions

  • Which activities does the company engage in to raise social and ecological standards (for ex. cooperation with market partners, participation in labelling processes)? What do such measures entail in concrete terms?
  • Which activities does the company engage in to raise legislative standards of a social and ecological nature (for ex. cooperation with NGOs, lobbying)? What do such measures entail in concrete terms?

c) Evaluation table


First steps

(0 - 10 %)


(11 - 30 %)


(31 - 60 %)


(61 - 100 %)

Cooperation with competitors and partners of the value chain


Relevance: high


Initial pilot projects for joint development of higher standards with market partners (for ex. R&D cooperation)


No major conflicts with civil society in regard to standards


Active external communication of higher standards  (for ex. website)

Routine mechanisms for joint development of higher standards established


Higher standards are a key component of the company’s communication policy

Self-obligation at sector level

Assurance and verifiability of higher standards (for ex. external audits and independent controls; cooperation with NGOs)

Active contribution to raising legislative standards


Relevance: moderate


Transparent disclosure of political activities


No resistance to higher social and ecological legislative standards

Commitment to higher legislative standards within the given sector (for ex. in cooperation with industry sector representatives)

Cross-sectoral commitment to higher legislative standards (for ex. cooperation with NGOs)

Transparent lobbying processes which include key contact groups (for ex. proposed legislation)

Range, content-related scope and depth


Relevance: high


Concerns a marginal social or ecological aspect

Concerns a major social or ecological aspect


Actual implementation of higher standards affects > 25% of revenue

Concerns several major social or ecological aspects


Actual implementation of higher standards affects > 50% of revenue

Concerns all major socio-ecological aspects


Raising of sectoral standards is an inherent component of entrepreneurial positioning (> 90%)


D) Special aspects regarding the evaluation

  • Company size / market power of the company: with increasing size and influence, the active contributions which a company makes towards raising legislative standards or advocating higher standards across their entire sector via sector representation carry increasing weight. In turn, the smaller a company is and the less market power it has, the smaller the role it will have in exerting any positive influence on legislative aspects (sole proprietorships and SMEs in particular have limited possibilities for exerting influence).
  • Differentiation from D2: when it comes to raising social and ecological standards in your sector, cooperation with other market players, among them suppliers, customers and NGOs and most of all enterprises from the same sector, is essential. Consequently, redundancies involving Indicators D2 and D5 are possible. D5 focuses on those aspects of cooperation which actually lead to higher social and ecological sectoral standards.
  • Targeted level and effectiveness of initiatives: In evaluating this, the quality of processes and the targeted level of voluntary higher standards must be critically scrutinized. Several of the current initiatives are influenced by industry to a strong degree, involve civic protagonists to quite a limited degree and are characterized by marginal effectiveness in their efforts to address the ethical challenges of the sector (see for example: Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil - and Global Compact: Effectiveness plays an essential role here: the degree to which an initiative actually contributes to a change in regard to challenges (of the sector). Enterprise-driven initiatives are usually less effective than multi-stakeholder initiatives are in regard to the levels they target, the goals they set and the implementation they strive for.

e) Definition + Background

Many factors impede implementation of higher social and ecological sectoral standards. The competitiveness of the business location plays a crucial role in cases of local, national and supranational regulations and/or economic restrictions on enterprises, and these exert a great influence when it comes to sectoral standards. When standards are raised, those protagonists are often put at a disadvantage who show willingness to implement higher ecological or social standards in the competitive environment. This effect can be counteracted by cooperation among market partners in the framework of voluntary higher standards. The fact that such processes are often subject to massive criticism is shown by the example of the “Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil” [1]. In the event of conflicts concerning such initiatives, it is often advisable to consult experts and representatives of civil society to facilitate quality assessment. In part, the evolution of legislative framework conditions is shaped by companies and sector representatives who oppose regulation. Transparent, active advocacy of higher standards at the legislative level, in particular on the part of key business sector representatives, can counteract this dynamic.

f) Implementation

Depending on company size, sector size and structure, quite different paths can be taken to achieve these goals. In quite fragmented sectors, for example, one approach is to actively search out like-minded competitors and create a joint platform. In highly concentrated sectors, a transparent, cross-sectoral approach involving cooperation with NGOs and civic initiatives to create legislative framework conditions can be effective.

At the substantive level, defining higher standards can be accompanied by exchanging knowledge and expertise regarding aspects of sustainability and engaging in benchmarking  activities with other market participants (for ex. regarding ecological indices). This can help companies compare their own activities in the sectoral context and facilitate assessment of them. 

At the corporate level, participation in so-called "draft norms" can help raise legislative standards.

g) Best Practice

Many small initiatives, companies and cooperation projects could be listed here. Three will serve as examples:

H) Bibliography/Links/Experts

Dossier “Responsible Lobbying” by CSR Weltweit:

 i) Appendix 1: xy; Excursus: xy

None at present 


[2] For example label processes which comply with the criteria established by the ISEAL Alliance:

[3] Dossier Responsible Lobbying – CSR Weltweit: