CSR at the heart of business

At a time when sustainable development and responsible business are both ethically and legally essential, which role CSR should play at the heart of an organisation? Interview with Brigitte Dumont, Head of CSR at Orange Group and Viviane de Beaufort, Professor at ESSEC, and founder of Women - EXEC Programmes.

Is corporate social responsibility (CSR) a recent concept? What does it involve?

Viviane de Beaufort: People were challenging profit as a sole business objective long before the concept of CSR was created. Companies became aware that they must also pay attention to their environmental, social and societal impact. The first response was to implement corrective measures to reduce some negative aspects of their activities. Today, we go one step further by obliging the company to take on a corporate citizenship role. CSR has to be integrated into the very heart of the company’s strategy and be pushed by the Board in their decision-making and governance.

Brigitte Dumont: The French NRE (New Economic Regulations) Act of 2001 introduced certain obligations for listed companies such as publishing the environmental and social impacts of their activities each year. Long before this legislation, large corporations were already looking into their impact because their position brought them a certain amount of responsibility. On the other hand, governments were no longer supporting certain social subjects even within their remit for financial reasons.

Is this responsibility obvious to all companies?

B.D.: It has to be! Without taking into account environmental, social and societal issues, a company will suffer financially because its performance cannot be sustainable. Another element in favour of CSR: image and reputation management is essential for a company today.

Consumers expect brands to engage and promote human values or environmental protection.
Brigitte Dumont, Head of CSR at Orange Group

V.dB.: New generation companies are emerging, especially start-ups, and shaking things up. Some of them create companies that have a political vision whose goal is to “save the world” through a service or technical innovation. For these young entrepreneurs, who are making or hoping to make a profit, CSR is an integral part of their project’s DNA.

What is the role of CSR at the heart of an organisation?

B.D.: Its place is becoming more powerful. Depending on the organisation and the issues at stake, corporate social responsibility is linked to different business units: strategy, finance, HR or even the Board. At Orange, CSR is attached to a member of the Executive Committee whose role extends to CSR, the Orange Foundation for philanthropy and diversity. These three policies are linked to me as a stakeholder in the Group’s management.

V.dB.: Attaching CSR to a member of the Excom sends a strong signal. It reveals the place given to CSR in a company and how far-reaching it is through the company’s policies. In the same way, when managers are paid according to objectives related to equality, disability or CSR, the company also sends a strong message.

How is this formally managed at Orange?

B.D.: The starting point of the Group’s strategic programme Essentials2020 clearly shows the central role of CSR: “Orange, a digital, efficient and responsible company”. It’s very engaging to write responsible since this enables me as Group CSR Director to question all of the Group’s business activities on the application and conduct of CSR policies. For its deployment I rely on a network of collaborators and correspondents or CSR managers throughout the Group.

V.dB.: Five or six years ago, CSR was a separate entity and just one person’s job. Nowadays it is far more widespread and encompasses all parts of a business. In schools and universities, it is also essential to raise awareness and engage young students on questions of responsibility.

These future managers must understand that CSR is not a particular job function but must inspire all the choices they will have to make.
Viviane de Beaufort, Professor at ESSEC, and founder of Women - EXEC Programmes

In France, what are the implications of the “duty of care” act for large companies? Is there the same kind of regulation in other countries around the world?

V.dB. : This law will financially penalise companies that do not put in place a duty of care plan. This plan must prevent social, environmental and governance risks related to their operations but also to the activities of their subsidiaries, subcontractors and suppliers. The requirements therefore increase with respect to the previous regulations. Moreover, in Europe, France is identified as a pioneer on all these issues. Concerning the European Union, a directive implemented in March 2017 obliges listed companies to publish their environmental and societal impacts, similar to the French NRE Act of 2001.

B.D.: The Orange CSR approach is based on a proactive commitment: listening and responding to everyone’s expectations. With the greatest of respect for our regulatory environment and beyond, we ensure our policies, investments and innovation create lasting value for everyone and for society as a whole.