Sustainable Innovation


Late Adoption of Corporate Responsability in France

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Why has France been rather late with accepting CR policies ? Elisabeth Laville, French Sustainability Consultant, gives 4 plausible reasons and Francoise Helene Jourda, Architect, adds a 5th one :

1. State held responsible for social and environmental matters . In French welfare state, people expect the government to take care of social and environmental issues.  Companies are supposed to create sufficient revenues for the benefit of its employees and  families. ‘Corporate Responsibility’ (CR) had been for long simply not recognized as a concept applicable to French companies. It was perceived as an Anglo-saxon invention.

2. NGO’s have limited influence. French company boards have not been really challenged by NGO’s about their social or environmental responsabilities. There is no tradition of dialogues between Corporate Companies and public pressure groups – the Grenelle discussions were an exception. Many French people feel less connected to NGO’s, compared to the UK, where Oxfam is very popular, and the Netherlands, where 30% donate to the World Wildlife Foundation.

oxfam world wildlife foundation

3. Pioneers lack in the private sector. First, Corporate Responsibility (CR) is seen as something invented in the Anglo-saxon world. There are limited examples of real French companies about which the French people can be proud of such as the Bodyshop in the UK – again an English example – started by Dame Anita Roddick.

bodyshopbodyshop title

Bodyshop Values : Protect the Planet, Defend Human Rights, Support Community Trade

4. Limited experience with holistic thinking and transversal working. Sustainable development require out-of-the-box thinking and cross-functional working. In sustainable architecture projects it has been proven a blocking point. The same challenge is recognized in other industries. In France, people value profession development and tend to stick to their career path. This complicates working in multi-disciplinairy teams.

5. Sustainable development believed to be ‘uncool’. Sustainable Development and Corporate Responsability had been simply ‘uncool’ for years. In architecture, according to Jourda, ‘Sustainability’ did in fact  devaluate an architectural design ! Fortunately, things have changed recently. Sustainability has become a must-have to create a rigid and acceptable design and it (almost) has become fashionable…

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“Many reasons could explain the late awareness of CSR in France.

There was not so long ago, the big French companies were majority owned by the state. Even today, many depend on state orders. In this context, CSR is seen as a state responsibility. The pioneers who dared to challenge the companies on this topic were simply caricatured as “leftist” or have either had their careers hampered.

Nongovernmental organizations have invested on subjects relating to charities, such as “Restau du coeur”, “League against Cancer” … The misadventures of Green Peace and sabotage of the Rainbow Warrior are still in many heads. Publicly call the French nuclear industry on the real or supposed effects of radioactive products was not allowed.

The leaders of major French firms are mainly from two education streams, Polytechnique and ENA. Two styles of training profiles that produce highly effective in the implementation of plan pushed by State, but little accustomed to take into account the iconoclastic opinions or viewpoints, especially interdisciplinary. These elite trust almost majority of the seats of boardrooms. This inbreeding has stifled any expression of brilliant but different minds, yet not lacking in France, including among those leaders.

Finally, access to the media, newspapers or television, was not easy, as these groups were also closely linked to the state or governed by these elite.

Major developments have come from Europe and globalization. The European Union has led to major changes and continues to produce changes that member states are required to incorporate the form of regulations or laws.

With globalization, large French companies have relocated and had to face competition from companies that show their commitment to social responsibility as a competitive advantage.

The mere fact that websites like this exist shows the path. Internet allows to circumvent censorship and any citizen may apprehend a multinational on its role and responsibility.

Internet has also provided the means of controls and reduces the effects of communications.

With globalization, large French companies have relocated and had to face competition from companies that show their commitment to social responsibility as a competitive advantage. Customers become the king.

The mere fact that sites like this exist shows the path. Internet allows to circumvent censorship and any citizen may apprehend a multinational on its role and responsibility.
Internet has also provided the means of controls and reduces the effects of communications. French company cannot rely on good practice in Europe and less saying around the world, as shown in recent examples.

It is clear that to establish the corporate social responsibility, I suggest three areas:
1 / Information and communication on best practices in publicizing successful examples
2 / The involvement of local authorities is a major route for the irrigation of the entire society
3 / the viewpoints of several disciplines what you name transversal thinking.

M. Olivier SEGBO,
KRYPTSYS ceo and Longjumeau deputy mayor in charge of housing and social affairs “

Comment by O. Segbo




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