In response to the referral from the Minister for Ecological Transition, the Minister for Labour, Employment and Economic Inclusion, and the Secretary of State for the Social, Solidarity and Responsible Economy on “the subject specific to social labelling” so that “consumer information” helps to “transition our economy towards a more ecological and united model”, the CSR Platform is issuing an opinion concerning the conditions for the creation and success of such a social labelling system for goods and services.
The CSR Platform also took into account the new legal provisions that came into force after this referral, such as the “Climate and Resilience” law introducing into the French Environmental Code a labelling obligation for a certain number of specific products and services, relating to environmental impacts, or relating to both environmental impacts and compliance with social criteria.
Therefore, ensuring “more sustainable and responsible consumption” by better informing the consumer is the purpose of social labelling together with environmental labelling, and must therefore guide its development and the decisions in its practical implementation: this is the mindset that drove the work of the CSR Platform.
Responding to a growing need for consumer information…
There is now a growing desire for a responsible consumption of products that respects the environment, health and well-being, but also promotes a more local economy, in particular because products are made locally under ethical conditions. Thus, consumers are now more aware of the impact that their purchases can have and see themselves as actors in the transition to a more sustainable consumption model, even if it is clear that this means of action is not in itself enough for transition to a more ecological and inclusive economic model.
However, we note that this asserted sensitivity to social and ethical considerations (such as respect for human rights, workers’ rights, social dialogue) is not always reflected in purchasing behaviour.
Without ignoring the constraints of purchasing power, the development of responsible consumption requires the provision of better information. If consumers want more information, it is also because they consider that the information available to them is insufficient, or on the contrary too in-depth, and does not enable them to make informed consumer choices. The complexity of the information and the consumer’s ability to process this information are also obstacles.
…while being careful not to add noise to noise
The number of notices, markings and claims (social, environmental, health, etc.) affixed to products or their packaging or used in institutional communications is increasing: too much information leads to information overload, and there is a risk of adding noise rather than effectively assisting decision-making. The increase in the number of these labels can complicate the consumer’s choice, lost between various claims, the reliability of which may be questionable. These initiatives do not offer the same level of commitment and guarantee.
The applications used for grading and evaluating products, particularly in terms of health and ethics, which have emerged in recent years can provide useful information to consumers, but they raise questions about their reliability, transparency in terms of evaluation methodology and scope covered, or accessibility at the time of purchase.
The reliability of information is also undermined against a general backdrop of distrust among consumers and more generally among citizens.
It is also essential to provide them with a simple, visual and accessible comparison tool in order to guide their consumption according to their needs.
In this context, the thinking aims firstly to ensure that the development of social labelling does not add more confusion to the “jungle of labels”, within which certain companies or products claim superior value without it being possible to judge the reality of this superiority or its reliability. If this is not achieved, the implementation of social labelling would become a factor aggravating consumer scepticism towards corporate initiatives. It is therefore necessary to remain vigilant in a situation where the existing social labelling systems are not yet fully developed.