May 22, 2022

the remarkable performance of French companies in 2021

On a subject that the majority of business leaders and stakeholders consider essential but on which it often remains difficult to measure the impact of concrete actions, that of corporate social responsibility (CSR), the recent study published by the Business Mediator and the EcoVadis rating platform bear witness to the remarkable performance of French businesses.

Based on more than 80,000 assessments and specific measures concerning social issues, ethics, the prevention of corruption or respect for the environment, the authors rank French companies in third position, just behind the Sweden and Finland, and well ahead of their German or American counterparts.

The role of the legal framework

The overall score of 54.3/100 obtained by French companies also allows them to reach a level qualified as “adapted” (four levels being defined to qualify the quality of the CSR management system: “exemplary”, “adapted “, “incomplete” and “intangible”).

In detail, the study offers a detailed view of performance on various major themes: environment, social, ethics and, specific to this survey, responsible purchasing. French companies, of all sizes, thus rank first on the “social” theme, covering human resources and human rights issues.

They appear at 8e rank on the theme of “ethics”, covering corruption, anti-competitive practices and information management. It is moreover on this theme that French companies have recorded the strongest growth over 6 years. They appear at 5e rank on the theme of the environment and at 3e rank on that of responsible purchasing.

Business Ombudsman/EcoVadis (2021)

On a global scale, we see the importance of the regulatory framework on this last criterion of responsible purchasing. In fact, only half of the SMEs/ETIs, not concerned by the legal duty of care, have implemented concrete actions to make more responsible purchases.

On the other hand, 87% of the large companies assessed, of course concerned by this duty of care, have implemented such policies. French companies are therefore probably reaping here the benefits of a restrictive framework that it is now important to overcome in order to transform the constraints into real opportunities.

Read more: Does a company’s CSR performance depend above all on its location?

It is also very enlightening to note that the most advanced companies in terms of responsible purchasing are also those that appear to be the most advanced in the other CSR themes. If the main causal link is indeed that of a general level of maturity in terms of CSR, responsible purchasing now seems to be an excellent relay for spreading responsibility. We had also shown in our research that responsible purchasing was an important source of sustainable value creation.

Progress levers

However, responsible purchasing still remains without doubt the theme on which the most concrete and significant progress can be made (since we are starting from a relatively long distance). They are also a great vehicle for disseminating responsible practices among suppliers and the entire ecosystem. This is also true internally, when responsible purchasing promotes progress in human resources management or the use of physical resources for greater sobriety.

Read more: There is no point in producing responsibly, you have to buy sustainably

One of the lessons of the study lies in the observation that performance in terms of responsible purchasing appears to be consistent with performance in the other dimensions of CSR (environment, social/human rights and ethics). However, advances in responsible purchasing appear to come after progress on other themes.

Progression of the rating of French companies on the “responsible purchasing” criterion.
Business Ombudsman/EcoVadis (2021)

In other words, responsible purchasing progresses when the company that implements it is already mature on the other dimensions of CSR. The opposite, namely progress recorded on the other dimensions of CSR following gains in the maturity of responsible purchasing, is on the other hand almost never observed.

So far, the other dimensions of CSR seem to have “pulled” responsible purchasing practices upwards, demonstrating certain beneficial effects of the necessary consistency between internal and external practices. The level of performance achieved by companies on the four dimensions observed today seems to plead for a takeover, through responsible purchasing, in the dissemination of good practices, from the external to the internal so henceforth.

The relatively low maturity of responsible purchasing compared to the other dimensions of CSR therefore offers companies many levers for progress, which, if activated, would contribute to further improving the maturity of the other three dimensions, more traditionally assessed.