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Structural lobby washing requires a responsible strategy

Lobby washing

Although the term greenwashing has been known for a long time, a new phenomenon emerged from recent research by VBDO, namely ”lobby washing”. Supermarkets and FMCGs such as Ahold Delhaize and Henkel are happy to show the general public how sustainable they are. For example, by supporting initiatives that advocate a circular economy. However, outside the public eye, sometimes the opposite happens. As with the European circular economy policy: Henkel actively lobbies against this and both Ahold Delhaize and Henkel pay industry associations (EuroCommerce and BusinessEurope) to do this for them. In this way, both parties benefit from the positive public attention, but behind the scenes, they ensure that they do not really have to change.

Although lobbying can make a positive contribution to achieving better regulation, lobbying currently offers too much scope for lobby washing. Partly due to a lack of transparency. This phenomenon does not only occur among supermarkets and FMCGs. Research by InfluenceMap shows that 75% of the most polluting companies have sustainability ambitions that are in line with Paris, but only about a quarter of these companies actually lobby in line with this agreement. For trade associations, which operate even more outside the public eye, this percentage is a macabre 11%.

Responsible lobbying

The difference between the goals of companies and the lobbying activities of the same companies is remarkable. Of course, companies have the right to lobby, but rights also come with obligations, and companies often fail to fulfil their duty to lobby responsibly. Responsible lobbying means that a company lobbies in line with its own objectives (sustainable or not). When this is not the case, companies abuse their right to lobby and society is disappointed. This is why it is important that companies draw up a responsible lobbying strategy.

A responsible lobbying strategy consists of three crucial components. First, a vision of what the company wants to achieve with its lobbying activities. Second, provide transparency about these activities, objectives and costs. And third, a strategy that comes into effect when affiliated trade associations are not lobbying in line with the company’s own objectives. Since many lobbying activities go through trade associations, it is precisely the third component that is essential. A company is in fact a customer of a trade association. Since companies know better than anyone that the customer is always king, companies must also start behaving like kings.

Unfortunately, reality shows that companies hardly have responsible lobbying strategies and without a transparent lobbying strategy, lobby washing is lurking. So only by integrating the above criteria can companies, such as Ahold Delhaize and Henkel, actually show that they endorse their own sustainable ambitions.


This article was previously published at

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“In this way, both parties benefit from the positive public attention, but behind the scenes, they ensure that they do not really have to change.”