Social enterprise in France: At the Crossroads of the Social Economy, Solidarity Economy and Social Entrepreneurship?
ICSEM Working Papers No. 34 Liege: The International Comparative Social Enterprise Models (ICSEM) Project.
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Social enterprise is a notion little discussed in France by comparison with other national contexts. The most commonly used concept today is that of social and solidarity economy (SSE). SSE is now recognized as a major force in the French economy, accounting for more than 10% of total employment. An important step towards its institutionalization has been achieved with the adoption of a specific law in July 2014. This law defines the criteria of the social economy as follows: a purpose other than the distribution of profits, democratic governance, reinvestment of profits in the activity and compulsory asset lock. It therefore includes all associations, cooperatives, mutual organizations and foundations.1 In addition to these traditional legal forms of SSE, the law opens up the field of SSE to commercial companies whose economic activity has a social utility purpose (support to persons in a situation of fragility, fight against exclusion and inequalities, education in citizenship, sustainable development) and whose management meets the following criteria: the financial surpluses must be allocated in priority to the social mission and to compulsory reserves; the company’s shares cannot be negotiated on capital markets; and an equitable wage policy (with a wage scale in which the highest salary does not exceed 10 times the lowest salary) must be implemented. These commercial enterprises can be labelled as “solidarity enterprises of social utility” (entreprise solidaire d’utilité sociale, or ESUS) by public authorities (prefecture).
It is thus not easy to depict the French situation as far as social enterprises are concerned. The guiding hypothesis of this text is that the social enterprise as initially conceptualized within the EMES International Research Network (Defourny 2004) is little used in France because it does not correspond to a stabilized approach and takes different forms, situating it between three poles that characterize the current French situation: the solidarity economy, the social economy and social entrepreneurship.