The 2008 financial crisis, with its economic and social consequences, led several heads of voluntary and trade-union organisations, politicians, experts, and business leaders to call for collective mobilisation in favour of stronger “corporate social responsibility” under those various aspects. They see therein an opportunity to rethink the business model of the 21st century, and to bring about new dynamics of sustainable, inclusive growth. The European Commission encourages Member States to adopt a resolutely “strategic” approach to CSR, with the aim of reconciling the requirements of competitiveness and social responsibility.
However, barely a quarter of French businesses with over 9 employees state that they are truly involved in responsible approaches. What is more, 60.4% of them state that they do not know the notion of CSR(1).
As is the case with other European countries, since 2001, France has put in place a number of regulatory and voluntary initiatives favouring CSR. To amplify that movement, in April 2013, the Prime Minister set up a platform involving dialogue on CSR(2); the platform comes under the ægis of France Stratégie, and is made up of representatives of civil society (businesses, trade unions, associations, NGOs, experts, etc.).
The CSR platform includes a working group on the theme of “CSR and competitiveness”, which is indicative of the place occupied by the subject in public debate. Can it be considered that concern over social responsibility is compatible with concern over competitiveness? In other words, can CSR be grasped not as an additional constraint, but as a tangible economic contribution for businesses? In that case, how can businesses be encouraged to include CSR approaches in their development strategies?
After a presentation of the debate and an overview of CSR in French businesses, this study seeks to identify the factors that can favour the adoption of responsible approaches and the link between those approaches and economic performance. To test that link, an original analysis was carried out of about 8,500 French businesses with at least 10 employees (including SMEs), across several dimensions that make up CSR (environment and ethics, human resources, client relationships, and supplier relationships). The results allow several findings to be highlighted, and general guidelines as well as concrete actions to be proposed to encourage CSR in France.
(1) Taken from the Entreprises et Développement Durable (Businesses & Sustainable Development) survey (EDD, end of 2011, INSEE).
Authors : Salima Benhamou and Marc-Arthur Diaye, France Stratégie, in collaboration with Patricia Crifo, University of Paris-Ouest Nanterre and École Polytechnique.