Integrity in business operations and ethical conduct are essential for a.s.r.’s social role. a.s.r. is therefore committed to conducting its business according to principles such as transparency, integrity and honesty and acts in observance of ethical standards to ensure compliance with relevant legislation and regulations and to increase the trust of customers and other stakeholders. a.s.r. fulfils different roles, which sometimes makes it challenging to serve all relevant stakeholder interests in the decision-making process. a.s.r. therefore supports dealing with ethical dilemmas internally with ethical sessions and a continuing dialogue on dilemmas on the work floor. Ethical reflection is an important part of the value creation model of a.s.r.
Practicing ethical reflection and dialogue concerning dilemmas helps to involve a wider range of perspectives and interests from all relevant stakeholders in actions and decision-making. This open dialogue is practiced by organising ethical workshops and dilemma sessions. In 2021, four ethical workshops were held on the topic of diversity, equality and inclusion for all a.s.r. employees (2020: three). Four specific dilemma sessions were also organised (2020: three). The dilemma sessions are facilitated by the ethicist working in the Compliance department. Ethical workshops are an integral part of the a.s.r. academy. All ethical workshops and dilemma sessions were organised online in light of COVID-19.
These sessions center around important themes and daily dilemmas, providing opportunities for all employees and decision-makers in the company to engage in critical dialogue with each other. This helps people to practice navigating the ethical playing field, employing insights from different ethical theories to signal moral dimensions and to carefully classify and consider relevant stakeholders and their interests. On this basis, they work together on practical ethical guidance and policy to support daily decision-making.
a.s.r. aims to remain as inclusive as possible in its acceptance policies, providing access to essential financial products and services, particularly for vulnerable groups in society. On the other hand, societal developments and expectations, and a.s.r.’s sustainability policies are increasingly playing a role in determining which clients and companies it decides to do business with. Ethical guidelines and policies are therefore developed within the different business lines on the basis of current cases. This ethical reflection forces a.s.r. to ask itself with which customers and partners it can address shared social themes in order to realise a continual significant impact for its stakeholders.
By continually creating possibilities for dialogue on dilemmas, a.s.r. as an organisation learns to deal more effectively with changing social standards and circumstances. a.s.r. encourages the growth of ethical awareness among all its employees. In this way, a.s.r. increasingly acts in a self-aware manner in accordance with its core values and in line with the strategic social targets.
Technological developments in the area of big data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) play an increasingly prominent role in a.s.r.’s business operations. This has significantly impacted current products and services and presents new challenges for existing business models. Data-driven insights could for example better position insurers to increase solidarity and insurability, but also entail ethical dilemmas in the fields of privacy, data use and continued services for vulnerable groups of customers. The ethical framework that a.s.r. created in conjunction with the Verbond van Verzekeraars and which it has embraced as binding self-regulation since 2020, helps to monitor the important ethical boundaries and conditions for data use. The ethical framework of a.s.r. focuses on themes such as customer autonomy, the transparency and explicability of data and AI, access to necessary financial services, the stimulation of moral solidarity between customers and protection of their privacy. On the basis of this framework, new tests and data applications were organised in 2021 with the aim of tightening these further. a.s.r. also organised ethical sessions to develop specific guidance for middle management and to support employees on the work floor in the implementation and use of this ethical framework.
This year, a.s.r. faced an ethical dilemma on its enduring mission to promote sustainable development and realise the necessary energy transition, when news broke out of potential human rights violations in the supply chain for solar panels that are available on the market.
The Xinjiang region in China, where raw materials for the production of solar panels are sourced, became an international topic of attention when NGOs and news outlets reported violations of the human rights of Uyghur muslims in that area. This region produces a large part of the world-wide production of solar panels.
And unfortunately, there weren’t any readily available alternative supply chains for the sourcing of solar panels, with an estimated 95% of all solar panels possibly containing raw materials originating from that specific region. Furthermore, this situation jeopardised the mission of a.s.r. to contribute significantly to a swift, effective and necessary energy transition to more sustainable sources through the use of solar power.
Ethical dilemmas come in many forms and will present companies with moral interests of stakeholders involved that can be weighed and compared to varying degrees, depending on relevant moral circumstances. In this case however, the moral status of human rights and the inviolability of human dignity knows no moral comparison. For a.s.r., there is no situation in which the violation of human rights could be ethically legitimised. Because there was no way to definitively disprove these accusations, an alternative solution had to be found to reduce human rights risks as far as possible. This dilemma and these alternative solutions have been discussed in the EB multiple times as well as the direction chosen.
This direction helped a.s.r. to devise a solution to this dilemma. a.s.r. contractually empowered its full ownership as the landowner who employed active stakeholder engagement with its partners in the supply chain. This with the aim to press the importance of this issue and convey the urgent need for an alternative supply route for the necessary raw materials to produce solar panels. Fortunately, an alternative supply chain was found and agreed upon to deliver the necessary materials resulting in a sufficient level of comfort and help realise the ambitions of a.s.r. in the energy transition. Although this alternative entailed higher costs, a.s.r. choose for this option.