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28 June 2021 Christian Wißler, Pressestelle, University of Bayreuth

Prof. Dr. Dr. Alexander Brink, University of Bayreuth. Photo: private.

The Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection (BMJV), together with leading companies, has published a code on corporate digital responsibility, a comprehensive definition of company responsibility in the field of digitalisation. Prof. Dr. Dr. Alexander Brink, Professor for Business Ethics at the University of Bayreuth, has lent his expert assistance to the development of these guidelines together with Dr. Frank Esselmann from concern GmbH, a spin-off of the University of Bayreuth, on behalf of BMJV. One of the central concerns dealt with by the code is the transparent handling of customer data.

"Corporate Digital Responsibility - CDR for short - is becoming increasingly important as part of the comprehensive definition of corporate responsibility. Many business models, from innovative start-ups to global corporations, are meanwhile based on the collection, analysis, and transmission of data - whether from individuals, civil society organisations, or companies. This corporate use of data now affects almost all areas of our lives. Nevertheless, not everyone is aware of the resulting ethical challenges. It is therefore most timely for the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection to take the initiative to launch guidelines on corporate digital responsibility," says Brink.

For many years, the business ethicist in the Philosophy & Economics programme at the University of Bayreuth has been advocating the view that combining ethics, social responsibility, and entrepreneurial action be understood as a win-win situation for all parties involved. Brink also sees the new CDR guidelines in this context: "The CDR code is not aimed at restricting entrepreneurial freedom. Rather, these guidelines are based on the realisation that social and ecological responsibility, especially in the area of digitalisation, is in the interest of business itself. This has been clearly confirmed by numerous recent scientific studies. Hence, it is all the more urgent to use this insight right now for the design of business models in the digital economy."

The first signatories of the CDR Code published today include Deutsche Telekom, ING Deutschland, Otto Group, Telefónica Deutschland, and Zalando. Further companies are now invited to sign the CDR Code in turn, and thus make a contribution to digital responsibility. Of central importance are the requirements of consumer protection, as companies rely on the collection, storage, and processing of data "from the outside" to achieve their strategic goals. This must be done in such a transparent way that the various stakeholders can trust the company in the long term. Rapid developments in the field of artificial intelligence are increasing the need for regulation in the area of CDR. Today, important services in medicine, commerce, and transport are already being transferred from humans to computers and robots. Ecological issues are also coming to the fore - for example, when it comes to the sustainability of energy sources and the level of energy consumption that companies require for digital processes.

Social and environmental responsibility guidelines have become a natural part of corporate culture in many industries. Yet they are mainly concerned with areas associated with traditional, analogue business. The code published today is now intended to provide an ethical framework to strengthen corporate responsibility in the area of digitalisation. "In addition, the code defines general principles to guide all members of the CDR initiative in their work. These include: transparency, people-centredness, and respect for fundamental societal values such as democracy, freedom, and the equal treatment of all people," explains the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection in its press release today. In May 2018, the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection had already launched a CDR initiative together with companies as a learning platform to jointly develop ethical foundations and cornerstones of digital responsibility for companies.

Contact for scientific information:

Prof. Dr. Dr. Alexander Brink
Business Ethics
University of Bayreuth

Phone: +49 (0)921 55-4122

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