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Back | Programme Area: Markets, Business and Regulation (2000 - 2009)

De la Françafrique à la responsabilité sociale des entreprises: Les dynamiques entre les firmes, l'Etat et les mouvements sociaux en France

In the context of economic globalization, firms, states and civil society organizations are seeking to understand the issues and adapt to the challenges of the new order. The corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement is one of the recent phenomena that firms, unions and NGOs—as well as, to a certain extent, national and international policy makers—have begun to address. In a post-Fordist environment, in which regulation must look beyond national frameworks, the challenges are, by their nature, international, with global social and ecological inequalities taking on new importance.

This paper aims to understand and interpret the interactive dynamics of state, business and civil society actors in France as they relate to North-South inequalities, and attempts to identify the principal stakeholders, their reactions and expectations, and their influence. More specifically, it examines how actors in civil society react to the activities of French multinationals in the developing countries, and how their reactions influence, or can influence, governmental and corporate policy.

The paper has six parts. The first section highlights some key historical aspects in order to contextualize the current situation, with a particular focus on the involvement of French firms in countries of the South—especially in Africa. The second section examines the nature of the activism that has developed in response to business conduct. The third deals with initiatives by policy makers, while the fourth section examines reactions within economic circles. Section five explores the dynamics between French business, social and state actors, taking as a starting point four representative case studies: AREVA and uranium production; water distribution; oil operations of the group Total; and the major companies engaged in forestry in Africa. The sixth and final section presents general observations on the potentials and constraints of French civil society to influence public policy and the social responsibility of French multinationals. It posits that the relationship between unions and NGOs is key to the development of the CSR movement in France.

There seem to be no clear links between traditional or new social movements, CSR initiatives and the denunciation of France’s post-colonial approach to Africa, known as Françafrique. The new social movements consist of an amorphous grouping of organizations that are active in diverse areas—operating at different levels, with different strategies and with their individual agendas. Not all have international concerns nor do they maintain relationships with more traditional organizations (in particular, labour unions). Within this sphere of influence, there are new economic social movements that operate in, and try to influence, the economic realm. They generally have no direct contact with social movements involved primarily with issues of global injustice and inequality, though both share common long-range concerns.

CSR initiatives vary widely. Pressure from NGOs, and corporate reaction to such pressure, have generated a dynamic that has spurred a proliferation of operations, instruments, proposals and specialized bodies. In this vast array of organizations, each has its own approach and agenda, giving rise to a confused and complex landscape. The government has a strong presence and helps to set the pace for the CSR agenda. This agenda centres largely on the question of updating the law on social and environmental reporting and—in the wake of the dissolution of the National Sustainable Development Council—by the CSR negotiating points of the Grenelle Environment Roundtable. With the Colbertist tradition still strong in France, the government tends to set the pace for other economic and social stakeholders as well.

The research for this paper was carried out under the UNRISD study, Social Responses to Inequalities and Policy Changes, which was part of a larger project, Inequality: Mechanisms, Effects and Policies (INEQ). The INEQ project involved eight Europe-based research institutions and was funded by the European Commission under the Sixth Framework Programme, Priority 7—Citizens and Governance in a Knowledge Based Society. The UNRISD contribution examined contemporary forms of advocacy and activism in France, Italy and the United Kingdom around debt relief, aid policy, international taxation, trade justice and corporate accountability. This research sought to understand the potential and limits of such activism in terms of influencing public policy and bringing about policy reforms conducive to more equitable North-South relations and global justice.
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  • Pub. Date: 16 Oct 2009
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1991-9921
    From: UNRISD