Getting Started with Corporate Social Responsibility: Proactive Stakeholder Communication is Key


In an era where sustainability and social responsibility are increasingly scrutinized by both public opinion and legal frameworks, effective communication about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is becoming more important. This is underscored by recent policy developments in The Hague and Brussels.

A notable example is the European political agreement reached last December on the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD). This directive, once implemented, will impose obligations on large companies to limit and counteract negative impacts on human rights and the environment – read more about the background of this regulation in this blog. Additionally, the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) will require big companies to report annually on their sustainability efforts, following its implementation on January 1, 2024. These developments highlight the increasing relevance of this topic and the necessity for clear communication, which is further discussed in this blog.

Clear and proactive stakeholder communication about CSR efforts is a requirement

For some companies and organizations, commitment to CSR may already be essential and taken for granted, but for societal stakeholders, understanding of this commitment is less obvious. Perceptions are largely defined by prejudices or assumptions, and the reality in CSR is often too complex to be explained in soundbites. It involves how companies address challenges in areas like climate change, human rights violations, social inequality, and new technologies.

How companies tackle these challenges is increasingly critically monitored by NGOs, investors, consumers, regulators, and legislators, and is often part of the annual report for many companies. The aforementioned European CSRD and CSDDD set the standard for sustainability policy. However, research by the Financieele Dagblad indicates that many Dutch companies are not yet prepared for the required reporting. A study by ABN AMRO reveals that two-thirds of Dutch companies have never heard of this regulation and more than half mistakenly think that this new directive will not affect them. Moreover, although these rules are primarily aimed at large companies, smaller businesses as part of the supply chains of multinationals cannot afford to be complacent and not actively involved in these developments.

Beyond all the regulatory reporting obligations, there is one crucial group that is probably insufficiently informed about companies’ CSR policies: politicians, policymakers in governments, and societal partners like trade associations. They often act on incidents and are then largely driven by media portrayals and are important opinion formers in the societal debate. It is mistakenly assumed that these opinion formers are well informed, while they may not always have enough time to delve into companies’ sustainability policies.

Our expertise

Public Matters specializes in interest representation and focuses specifically on these stakeholders. We help companies to better reach and inform this group. This requires a specific approach and communication strategy that resonates with the worldviews of politicians, senior officials, and societal organizations.

  • Knowledge of legislation and regulation: Public Matters supports clients through an integrated approach. We provide insights and advice on the developments, interpretation, and implementation of complex existing and emerging legislation and regulation. This includes, for example, the implementation of the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and other relevant CSR regulations such as Extended Producer Responsibilities (UPV), gender quotas, the legal integration of the Dutch Corporate Governance Code, the Dutch Tax Governance Code initiative, and more. For illustration, see the image below with some examples.
  • Insight into and connection with stakeholders: Public Matters knows the stakeholder field, ranging from politicians and financial institutions to NGOs. This enables us to connect organizations with relevant parties, facilitate valuable dialogues, and establish partnerships that are crucial for achieving sustainable goals and strengthening societal engagement.
  • Developing and conveying effective CSR communication strategies: our expertise in strategic communication enables us to support companies and organizations in clearly and convincingly communicating their CSR policies, targeting politicians, media, and societal stakeholders. We do this by creating customized messages that not only align with the actions and values of the organization but also with current societal and political expectations. Our approach contributes to authenticity in communication and avoiding the perception of superficial or insincere efforts, often referred to as ‘greenwashing’ or ‘purpose washing’.

Examples of (emerging) legislation and regulation in the field of CSR for illustration

Our services

  • Developing and implementing CSR communication strategies and campaigns: Public Matters assists organizations in developing, testing, and rolling out CSR communication strategies, closely linked to specific needs and objectives. This includes both internal awareness campaigns for employees and external campaigns targeting politics, media, and society. In this role, we act as a critical and honest sparring partner.
  • Conducting stakeholder analyses and engagement: we provide support in identifying and analyzing key stakeholders. We also develop plans to actively involve these stakeholders and build a sustainable relationship with them.
  • Supporting the publication and communication of annual sustainability reports: Public Matters ensures that the reports align with societal and political trends and reach the right stakeholders in the right form, such as Members of Parliament, officials, and other organizations in the chain.
  • Training: Public Matters offers a range of trainings that contribute to a better understanding within the organization of the expectations of politics and society. This includes workshops on “Political Awareness,” which provide internal stakeholders with insights into the functioning of the Dutch government, political developments, and decision-making processes, and how the organization fits within these. Such trainings also focus on improving reporting and communication about CSR, as well as good internal coordination.
  • Baseline measurement among (political) stakeholders: Public Matters conducts analyses to map the position of organizations within the political and societal landscape. We do this, for example, through interviews with relevant stakeholders, to gain insight into how an organization is perceived and what the expectations are. This information is essential to understand how the organization is perceived and how to respond to this.
  • Ad hoc advice and crisis communication: we offer flexible support in CSR communication depending on needs, including crisis communication at times when every second counts and every decision has a significant impact on your organization’s reputation.

"Perceptions are largely defined by prejudices or assumptions, and the reality in CSR is often too complex to be explained in soundbites."

Public matters

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