This article was originally published on July 3rd

In our current climate, companies are being looked to increasingly to take a position on social issues—sometimes to the point of engaging directly in public debate, or even in the political arena.

As companies become more active in issues of public policy—from education, to immigration, to human rights—corporate citizenship professionals should be prepared to advise leadership on what issues best align with their companies’ values and business goals. To help firms effectively address questions like navigating the corporate advocacy space, Dave Stangis—Vice President of Corporate Responsibility and Chief Sustainability Officer for the Campbell Soup Company—and I released two resources last year.

First, the book 21stCentury Corporate Citizenship: A Practical Guide to Delivering Value to Society and Your Business serves as a how-to guide for the corporate responsibility professionals leading and implementing programs on the ground. We followed up by publishing The Executive’s Guide to 21st Century Corporate Citizenship, which informs more senior managers on the business value of integrating sustainability and social impact into strategy.

The Role of Companies in Public Policy Debate

Corporations have a responsibility to their shareholders, communities, and employees to participate in the public policy process to enhance business and shareholder value.

The questions is not—”should corporations participate in the public policy process” but rather—”how do corporations participate in the public policy process.”

Corporate participation in the public policy process is an important means of enhancing the business and social value that companies deliver and is fundamental to free and democratic societies. Microsoft participates in the public policy process in countries in which we have operations around the world. That participation is focused on public policy issues that are core to our business and important to our stakeholders. We believe our engagement serves our business interests and also creates stronger, more informed public policies.

Our engagement in the public policy process is grounded in and guided by our unwavering commitment to strong corporate governance.

Louis Brandeis is famously quoted as saying, “sunlight is the best of disinfectants, lamplight the most efficient policeman.” At Microsoft, we believe strongly that a corporation’s public policy advocacy should be fully transparent. Our engagement is outlined in our annual global Public Policy Agenda that is available on our corporate website. The priorities identified on that Public Policy Agenda are based on our assessment of current and emerging national and local laws and regulations.

Five fundamental principles inform our policies and operational practices:

  1. Transparency in public policy advocacy
  2. Compliance, accountability, and transparency in political spending
  3. Empowering and supporting employees
  4. Oversight and transparency of trade association contributions
  5. Responsibility in governance and reporting

In the United States, we work to advance our policy agenda by: (1) supporting a government affairs programs designed to educate and influence elected officials on key issues directly related to our business; (2) supporting candidates both directly from corporate funds (where allowed by law) and from funds contributed by employees to the Microsoft Political Action Committee (MSPAC); and (3) membership in industry and business trade associations and coalitions.

The Regulatory and Public Policy Committee of the Microsoft Board of Directors is responsible for overseeing the company’s public policy work and receives regular updates and briefings on Microsoft’s public policy engagement.

I started my career in the political and activist arena—working for equity in access to healthcare for those suffering from HIV/AIDS. In my time in those roles and at Microsoft, I’ve seen some of the most important issues of our society addressed effectively by companies: education, marriage equality, immigration, and human rights just to name a few. The companies involved actually became leaders in the movement to address these issues. Corporations are, ultimately, communities of people working together towards shared objectives. Both individual citizenship and corporate citizenship are required to solve the biggest problems of our time.