Stéphanie Leblanc, Communications Manager, Europe, Middle East, and Africa, BSR

Last week I attended Produrable, an annual sustainability forum held in Paris. This year’s theme was “CSR Made in France.” The opening plenary session was a discussion panel composed of French luminaries from government, companies, civil society, and business associations representing French corporations. Moderated by BSR’s Director Farid Baddache, the session raised many interesting questions. Is there a French way of understanding and executing corporate social responsibility? Do we in France try to resist a general trend toward CSR globalization? Can a “CSR Made in France” approach help French companies perform better on the global scheme of economic competition?

Business culture in France tends to value stringent standards and rules over soft laws that leave a high margin of interpretation to their users. This specificity is reflected in the French approach to CSR, which is defined by the laws of the French Republic. As such and as early as 2001, the French government passed the NRE law, which made sustainability reporting mandatory for listed French companies. The government recently reiterated with a new law, Grenelle II Article 225, which opened the mandate to unlisted companies worth at least €100 million and with an average of 500 full-time employees.

As in many other countries, some global initiatives like ISO 2600, the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and GRI are well respected and shape standard approaches to CSR. French companies thus standardize their approach under the influence of these commitments and align practices with relevant European directives. Environmental performance through hazardous components management, carbon cap and trade, and energy efficiency programs are heavily driven by the European Union’s regulations.

In this session, one consensus was clear. Rather than a mechanical regulatory compliance, all French companies, from SMEs to big corporations, should leverage “CSR Made in France” as a national business differentiator to ensure brand value, quality products and services, controlled risks, safer supply chains, and more positive externalities. This leads to innovation and enhanced market value globally in a world of fierce economic competition.

Is “CSR Made in France” a value for national companies exclusively? Could it also provide global companies operating from France a competitive advantage? The earlier mentioned Grenelle II Article 225 might very well be a game changer in this case; unlike other national regulations, it applies to both domestic and foreign companies with a physical presence in France.

For more insights, check out BSR’s recent report The Five W’s of France’s CSR Reporting Law and blog post Strange but True: France to Influence Asian Sustainability Reports. Additionally, BSR members can download and listen to the recording of our recent Sustainability Matters Webinar "New French Reporting Law: What Does It Mean for Foreign Companies?"