Corporate Responsibility at Sonova
Sonova understands how the involvement of stakeholders supports our long-term success by enhancing transparency, broadening knowledge, and generating innovative solutions. Sonova identifies and selects relevant stakeholders for further dialog and engagement based on our existing stakeholder-facing activities and on information gathered from internal staff interviews and management workshops. We regularly interact with our current stakeholders to define their specific interests in our business activities, products and services and their influence over our decisions. Sonova has defined five key stakeholder groups:
- Customers and consumers
- Academia and opinion leaders
Further stakeholder groups important to Sonova are:
- Financial community
- Competitors and industry
Approach to stakeholder engagement
Sonovaʼs first and foremost priority in the response to COVID-19 has been to protect the health and safety of our employees and their families, as well as our customers, consumers and partners. We have taken accountability as a global company, helping to limit – to the best of our abilities – further spread of this virus, while ensuring that people in need have continued access to hearing care. We have sustained engagement with key stakeholders throughout these challenging times, while also taking proactive steps to safeguard Sonovaʼs financial health, maintain employment, and continue sustainable operations.
Below you find information and examples of Sonovaʼs regular engagement activities with our different stakeholder groups. The latest engagement with our key stakeholders related to the ESG materiality assessment was in 2019/20.
Customers and consumers
Our customers and consumers stand at the center of our business. Our business model is built on business-to-business (hearing care professionals, clinics, retailers) and business-to-consumer (end users, patients) relationships. Sonova establishes specific channels of engagement appropriate to the differing needs of each of these groups.
We ensure continuous dialog with our business-to-business customers through our sales representatives, brand tracker surveys, customer satisfaction surveys, advisory network, knowledge management and sharing, customer hotline and support, audiology conferences, online customer communities, and complaint management channels. We provide a broad range of professional training and courses that address the various specializations in the hearing care industry. We also organize e-learning seminars, road shows, face-to-face in-clinic training, and technical marketing material to help transfer our knowledge and train hearing care specialists. We conduct an annual worldwide customer survey to ensure satisfaction and loyalty of our customers. Based on this data, the Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) is calculated and expressed on a scale between 0 and 100, the latter being the best. In 2019/20, the CSI was 79 (2018/19: 80). Due to COVID-19, only a reduced version of the annual customer survey was carried out. The next full global customer survey will be conducted in 2021/22.
We engage with end users and patients through satisfaction surveys and different communities such as the Phonak Pediatric Advisory Board, HearingLikeMe.com, or Advanced Bionicsʼ Bionic Ear Association (BEATM). The Phonak Pediatric Advisory Board was founded in 1998 to help steer Phonakʼs pediatric product development and establish and recommend industry-best practices to support the needs of children with hearing loss and ensure optimal outcomes for them. Members of the Pediatric Advisory Board include parents of children with hearing loss, researchers and professors in pediatric audiology, as well as master pediatric clinicians. HearingLikeMe.com is an online community for people whose lives are affected by hearing loss. The website contains stories written by people with hearing loss, their family members, or hearing care professionals. BEATM is a community of hearing health professionals and cochlear implant recipients that aims to improve the quality of life of individuals with severe-to-profound hearing loss by providing valuable information, education, and awareness on cochlear implants.
Sonovaʼs employees are key to its success. Sonova actively engages with its employees e.g. through its annual employee engagement survey called “HearMe” and through its annual appraisal and development process. The employee appraisal and development meeting is an essential process to assess satisfaction, provide feedback, and define expectations for behavior and performance. It supports each employeeʼs personal and professional development and helps to build trusting relationships by providing a format for open dialog. We estimate that around 30% of Sonovaʼs global workforce is represented by an independent trade union or covered by collective bargaining agreements.
Sonova has 19,102 registered shareholders, who together own 66.37% of the total shares. Shareholdersʼ interests are represented by the Board of Directors, which sets and oversees the general direction of the company. We publish an Annual Report for shareholders and other stakeholders, and hold an Annual General Shareholdersʼ Meeting, which provides a forum for discussion and debate as well as an opportunity to vote on compensation for management and the Board of Directors. Each share entered in the share register with a voting right entitles the holder to one vote at the Annual General Shareholdersʼ Meeting.
Suppliers are an integral part of Sonovaʼs value chain. Our relationship with our suppliers is governed by Sonovaʼs Group Supplier Principles (SGSP), which are based on a range of international standards, customer requirements, and industry characteristics. We assess all new suppliers on their management systems. We regularly audit and visit suppliers and inspect their management capabilities through employee interviews and on-site inspections.
Academia and opinion leaders
Sonovaʼs know-how and history of innovation is reflected in its strong partnerships with leading academic institutions and opinion leaders around the world. We collaborate intensively with universities such as the University of Zurich, the University of Hannover (Germany), the University of Oldenburg (Germany), Vanderbilt University in Nashville (US), the University of Melbourne (Australia), the University of Queensland (Australia), the University of Western Ontario in Waterloo (Canada), the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology (ETH) in Zurich and Lausanne, and the University of Manchester (UK). We foster a close collaboration with these partners by offering support toward diploma theses for Masterʼs degree or PhD students. We do not just support studies financially, but, when appropriate, participate in the actual work by closely collaborating on research projects. Sonova experts also actively engage in the scientific community by participating in seminars and conferences as well as by co-authoring scientific studies in journals.
As a publicly listed company, Sonova pursues an open and active information policy. A governing principle of this policy is to treat all stakeholders alike and to inform them at the same time. We actively interact with the financial community at roadshows, conferences as well at investor meetings and conference calls. Sonova holds an Investor and Analyst Day every year at its headquarters in Stäfa. Because of restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, last yearʼs event took place in a virtual format with a record number of around 200 attendees signing up to join the live webcast. We also hold regular exchanges with environmental, social and governance (ESG) investors and rating agencies.
Sonova drives and maintains strong relationships with a variety of media representatives to ensure transparency, dialog, and accountability for all its activities. The media relations team works globally with top-tier public interest media, trade and special interest media, financial and economic media, and the major wire services to ensure fair disclosure of information to all stakeholders, creating – among other topics – awareness of hearing loss and its implications as well as informing on key aspects of Sonovaʼs business and sustainability performance. We proactively distribute and publish press releases, e.g. on our corporate website, organize press conferences, media trips, events or respond to requests when journalists are developing stories.
Most of Sonovaʼs products are regulated medical devices, which means that the company must meet statutory patient safety standards and functional performance claims with clinical evidence. We recognize our responsibility to share our specialist knowledge in external working groups to help define, on behalf of our customers, the regulatory principles that will ensure the highest quality standards for hearing instruments and cochlear implants.
Governments and social institutions such as the Veterans Administration in the United States and the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, as well as public and private insurance providers, all contribute to improve access to hearing care. Sonova regularly participates in tender processes and offers its products and services to help insurers receive the best hearing value for their money.
Competitors and industry
Sonovaʼs competitors aim to gain market share. This competition generates improved service for customers and drives Sonova to push yet further the limits of technology. We are committed to fair competition, defined in detail in Sonovaʼs Global Competition Law Policy. Sonova interacts with representatives from competitors e.g. through membership in industry associations such as the European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association (EHIMA), which represents the major European hearing instrument manufacturers.
Key topics and concerns raised
Key topics and concerns raised through stakeholder engagement are included in our materiality analysis, ESG strategy and respective reporting activities. The 2019 materiality assessment identified eight ESG topics with the highest relevance for Sonova, which are listed below. The stakeholder groups which assigned a comparatively high relevance to the specific topic are indicated in brackets.
- Product quality, safety and reliability (customers and consumers, regulators and governments, industry and competitors, investors, public)
- Business ethics and legal compliance (regulators and governments, industry and competitors, investors)
- Responsible supply chain (suppliers, industry and competitors, regulators and governments)
- Human rights and labor practices (regulators and governments, industry and competitors, public)
- Access to hearing care (customers and consumers, regulators and government, employees)
- Talent development (employees, industry and competitors, investors)
- Diversity and inclusion (employees, regulators and governments, public)
- Data privacy and digital ethics (customers and consumers, public, investors)
Further information on how Sonova has responded to those key topics and concerns are provided in the section “IntACT – Sonovaʼs ESG Strategy” of this CR Report and the respective chapters on the four strategic areas.