France sees Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as an economic, social and environmental issue of global governance, since the impacts (both positive and negative) that enterprises have on the environment and on societies know no borders. The positive impacts take the form of increased competitiveness thanks to innovation and cost reductions, compliance with and application of the rights of stakeholders, and protection of natural resources, biodiversity and the environment. Reversing the coin, the negative impacts contribute to the rampant globalisation that creates growing inequalities and depletes natural resources whilst accelerating the pace of global warming, a threat to the very survival of humankind.
From the outset, the first priority of French government policy in support of CSR, launched in the early 2000s, was to establish a legal framework for social and environmental transparency on the part of enterprises. The dynamic that emerged from the social and political consensus reached at the keynote national conference known as the Grenelle Environment Forum and national conferences held at the end of 2012 further confirmed this priority, supplementing it with schemes in the field of socially responsible investment, voluntary initiatives by private actors, local and regional initiatives and various consultation and action campaigns. The national system is unusual in that it now addresses not only enterprises but also financial players, employees and consumers and is supported by both central government and key regional and local agencies.
The French corporate sector is becoming increasingly involved. With over 700 member enterprises, the French network of the United Nations Global Compact is one of the largest in the world. According to studies published by consultants Capitalcom in 2012, CSR has become such a key issue at Annual General Meetings of shareholders that 19 of the top 40 French groups presented their CSR policy in 2011 as a major component of their growth strategy, a competitive advantage, a means of differentiation and a tool for monitoring regulatory changes in the developed countries. The number of companies setting a CSR Committee on their Boards has trebled in five years. KPMG’s annual league table for 2011 ranks France 4th in the world for the number of major enterprises publishing annual sustainable development reports.
The significant development of socially responsible investment, in which France leads Europe, the increasing influence of non-financial rating agencies and growing interest from trade unions and NGOs (which have founded a Citizens’ Forum for CSR) are further signs of a collective momentum in which public policy plays a crucial role.
Updated on: 08.01.13