Proposal Paper for the 21 century: «Companies Beyond Profit?»
This Proposals Paper is a summary of the work of the « Companies and Solidarity » Workshop.
Marcial Cozette, October 2002
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If the main question is how to invert the aims of the economy, in order to put humans back at the core of the project, and in which companies are just one of its parts, an initial debate was related the level of responsibility of business enterprises in the globalization process and its effects. There is not necessarily a contradiction between the concept of enterprise and that of solidarity. The desire to be « a good citizen » was, until recently, part of the agenda of many companies. They were forced to restructure by the recent changes in the world of finance and commerce or they would not develop, and very frequently, not even survive. In the process, they became organizations with a strictly economic goal, making them lose their sense of belonging to their environment, hence even their own identity. The considerable influence of companies on the daily life of an ever-greater number of individuals cannot be denied. Legally speaking, a company is not considered to be a common good, but it has social and environmental responsibilities. However, if states are incapable of making companies fulfill their legal obligations to society, who is going to regulate the social responsibility of enterprises, and how? It can be appreciated that the reactions of consumers (a call for boycott, the European opinion campaign for clean clothes), investors (the emergence of company assessment agencies and organizations that analyze the social and environmental performance of companies, wage saving) are becoming more and more relevant. Certain companies have established their own code of ethics, codes of conduct, or have recourse to audits of social conformity. The question of the company’s position in society and how it approaches solidarity assumes another dimension. What is at stake in terms of solidarity, on the one hand, among the companies and, on the other hand, between them and the players who shape the environment for the companies themselves, beyond their relationship with society as a whole?