Corporate digital responsibility: why digital ethics are essential

Where do the ethical boundaries of digitalization lie? And what are the digital responsibilities of companies? Find out here why we should strive now more than ever for corporate digital responsibility (CDR).

Increasing numbers of companies are voluntarily embracing corporate digital responsibility.
Image: © / Adobe Stock

Why digital ethics matter

Digitalization is both a curse and a blessing. On the one hand, it opens up an almost unlimited range of communication and connectivity possibilities, advances knowledge sharing and medical progress, and enables improved corporate efficiency and sustainability. On the other hand, the digital transformation itself raises new social and environmental problems that require solutions. These include matters of data protection and issues involving the use of artificial intelligence.

In order to avoid turning digitalization from a utopia into a dystopia, an ethical compass is required for the digital transformation. Increasing numbers of companies are recognizing this need and their own digital responsibility. At the end of the day, they know that #attitudematters. This is demonstrated by voluntarily committing themselves to corporate digital responsibility and establishing internal ethical guidelines for dealing with challenging issues. Their engagement in CDR may lead to them regaining the trust that has often been squandered in the digital and other sectors.

Corporate digital responsibility goes beyond legal requirements

In times of big data, the responsible and transparent collection and processing of data is unquestionably a core aspect of digital ethics. But corporate digital responsibility is about more than just ensuring compliance with laws such as the GDPR when handling customer data.

CDR means active involvement in shaping the digital world on the basis of ethical principles. For instance, companies may commit to enabling digital self-determination, setting clearly defined limits on data use and providing customers with comprehensive and transparent information on the scope, intent and purpose of their data gathering.

Corporate digital responsibility and corporate social responsibility – what’s the difference?

The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is already much older and more established than that of CDR. There are many points of intersection between CDR and CSR and companies should ideally include both in their mission statement. While corporate social responsibility relates to a company’s social and environmental responsibility at a more general level, corporate digital responsibility is a more specific form of corporate responsibility that focuses on the challenges of digitalization.

In addition to the key aspect of responsible data use, other focal areas of corporate digital responsibility include:

  • Enabling digital self-determination
  • Equality of access to digital technology
  • Responsible use of artificial intelligence
  • The ecological footprint of digitalization

Initiatives for greater digital responsibility

Given the urgency of the issue, several initiatives and platforms have been launched in Germany in recent years to explain the need for digital ethics and win companies over to corporate digital responsibility:

CDR Initiative of the German Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection (BMJV)

The goal of this initiative, launched in 2018, is to shape the process of digitalization responsibly and identify the specific measures that need to be taken for this. The working group includes many leading companies, such as SAP, Deutsche Telekom, Miele and the Otto Group. SAP, for example, was the first European technology company to draw up its own ethical guidelines for the use of artificial technology with the help of an external panel of experts.

"Against the backdrop of this process of digital transformation, it is vitally important that the debate about our society's future development is conducted not only in terms of the technological, commercial and economic implications, but also in terms of the ethical aspects and the underlying legal framework."

Extract from the BMJV position paper for the CDR Initiative competence platform

This joint project of B.A.U.M. e.V. and the German Federal Environmental Foundation (DBU) is aimed at SMEs that want to contribute to the sustainable use of digital technology. The focus is on the environmental, but also cultural and social challenges of the digital transformation.

Charta digitale Vernetzung (Charter for Digital Networking)

This corporate initiative initiated in the course of Germany’s Digital Summit aims to foster digital progress in Germany with responsible use of the potential of digitalization in the interests of society at all times. Around 80 companies and organizations have signed up to the Charter and its ten principles to date.