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Are the French distrustful or simply far-sighted and demanding?

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75% of French people express distrust of committed companies, particularly on the environmental side. This is what a study shows [PDF] carried out by Harris Interactive for the Mouvement Impact France, at the end of January 2022. This study accompanied the publication of a “Manifesto of the economy of tomorrow”, co-signed by several committed entrepreneurs and leaders. We could stop there and consider that this distrust is either an invitation for companies to communicate and explain more, or an invitation to give up. One could also think that this figure is the reflection of a very French distrust or the sign of a lack of interest… or whatever.

In reality, I think that this distrust is life-saving. It is an inviting and stimulating mistrust.

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Firstly because there is behind this distrust, a great requirement. For 8 out of 10 French people, the commitment of companies must be considered a priority for them, as it is for them; for 80%, this criterion of commitment comes into play in their consumption choices and for 77% in their professional choices.

Then because, behind this requirement, there is a clear and distinct demand for consistency: consistency between “saying it” and “doing it”! However, for the majority of French people (67%), it is difficult to distinguish the companies that are really responsible from the others. Being able to spot and sort the wheat from the chaff, that is also the demand!

The French call on the public authorities to intervene to encourage, or even compel, companies to act: 59% believe that companies are not capable of forcing themselves to adopt virtuous behavior on their own and that they therefore need injunction from the public authorities to encourage them to do so. The opinion is right, as often.

It is for this reason that we have supported, with some twenty French leaders, the revision of the European directive on the publication of information on sustainability by companies, known as “CSRD”, this constituting a new stage the evolution of our economic model.

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Encourage commitment to convince sustainably

Companies must respond to the demanding and legitimate pressure of public opinion to produce the common good, and not just good for themselves. And for this commitment to the benefit of the common good to be real, the public authorities must act.

What measures should be taken to encourage each company to put itself at the service of a higher social project? I wrote, under the aegis of the Jean-Jaurès Foundation, a note (“The urgency of the long term. A new State-business relationship for sustainable prosperity”) in order to propose courses of action. The first consists, for the public authorities, in distinguishing economic actors according to their behaviour. On this first part, the levers are not lacking. Thus, for tomorrow, we propose that corporate tax be modulated, with differentiated rates, on the scale of the efforts made by companies in environmental and social matters. Alongside this extended behavioral taxation, it is also access to conditional public aid and to public contracts, awarded by placing environmental and economic criteria on an equal footing, which must be reconsidered. A bonus for virtue and collective responsibility!

But to rigorously and fairly distinguish companies from each other, the second development involves a prior redefinition of what constitutes their “value”. Thus we propose to re-evaluate their performance based on both extra-financial and financial criteria aimed at assigning them an overall “impact score”, calculated in the same way for all and made public, in order to be able to guide the choices of consumers and investors. . And this is precisely what the French are demanding: 87% would be largely in favor of the introduction of a simplified indicator to measure the commitment of companies.

Finally, relating to collective issues and better consideration of the long term, it is also urgent to review corporate governance, by opening it up in a much broader and more transparent way and by promoting a shareholder philosophy freed from a logic of short-term profitability. These three major developments are concretized by 12 proposals that I invite public authorities, companies but also public opinion to feed, set up… or to challenge.

Let’s hope mistrust turns into goads for all of us in the service of lasting prosperity, governed by a new contract between government and business, a common pact for massive impact.

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