Accelerating the rise of CSR during the Covid crisis: a flash in the pan?
The health crisis we are going through affects all companies, from large multinationals to small SMEs operating in the territory. During the critical episode this spring, many have responded to the emergency by taking a "step aside" to contribute to the common effort. If their social responsibility has been questioned or even challenged, it is certain that CSR has for a few weeks been at the forefront of the concerns of the Directorates General. How can this movement be anchored in the long term?
The lockdown period caused an almost total halt in economic activity... Except for so-called essential activities. We have all realised that entire sectors of our economy are vital: health in the broadest sense of the term of course (from hospitals to pharmacies), law enforcement (including the fire brigade), the food sector of course including our farmers, social services, banks and insurance, the computer and telephone sector, water, energy and waste services... We can't name them all. In these companies, many employees then realized that their work made sense and that they too were an essential link. A glimmer of hope in our country, where nearly 85% of employees say they do not feel concerned by their company? We have also seen companies questioning their business model and "twisting" it to participate in the joint effort: Accor, which has made hotel rooms available to caretakers and convalescents, Decathlon, which has modified a diving mask into a breathing mask, six LVMH workshops that have started to produce masks in France, and so many other examples! Many companies have shown that they can, with their activity and the commitment of their teams and managers, embody a certain "raison d'être". This seemed to be a good time to reflect on how to build the "next world" by relying more on values of human contact, care, benevolence and trust: many CSR departments have understood this, especially as management has become more attentive to these subjects.
How to anchor this momentum over time? First of all, it must affirm its "raison d'être"(1) - a medium-term commitment to participate in the construction of a more sustainable world, affirmed with respect to external stakeholders, including investors. More than half of the companies that make up the CAC 40 have already written their own. But those that have written it into their articles of association as permitted by the PACTE law(2) are still in the minority (barely 10%). For the most ambitious, the next step is to become a "mission-oriented company": in addition to including its "raison d'être" in its by articles of association, precise indicators are defined and monitored by a third-party auditor. A specific independent governance system, the "mission committee", is set up to ensure that management complies with the mission with regard to stakeholders, including investors... Again, the investors. This spring, Danone was the only major French listed company to "take the plunge".
The economic crisis, mass unemployment, and the historic drop in turnover unfortunately risk for many companies to bring back the "raison d'être" to the question of "being" at all, i.e. to survive and get through the crisis. Visions have inevitably become more short-sighted, because how can you envisage your long-term future when you have to make ends meet? But let's not be pessimistic because there are more and more young entrepreneurs who are committed, sincere and convinced that a company can bring to the world something other than its profit. And then there are investors... they too want the companies they select to prove that the "next world" is being built. There is also a urgency: the silent stakeholder that was our planet in this summer of heat waves and drought.
(1) The "raison d'être" was established by the Nottat Senart report published in 2019, which inspired the loi Pacte.
(2) PACTE = "Plan d'Action pour la Croissance et la Transformation de l’Entreprise" - Action Plan for Business Growth and Transformation