Philippe VASSEUR, RESPECO Institute President
The 10th World Forum for a Responsible Economy will be held October 10th through 14th, 2016 in alternating venues across five French cities: Lille (on the 10th), Strasbourg (11th), Grenoble (12th), La Rochelle (13th), and Paris (14th).
The Forum's underlying principle remains, more than ever, intent on presenting best practices from across the world, in order to demonstrate that pragmatic and easily replicable solutions are available for promoting and developing a "responsible economy".
The general topic of this 10th Forum event will focus on the role of companies in society: beyond their economic performance, what can reasonably be expected from companies? What's the minimum level of social responsibility that companies should embrace? On the other hand, where are the limits of what society can demand of companies?
Under the banner "What should we expect from Companies?" (or "What purpose do Companies serve?"), Forum deliberations will be organized around three major headings.
THE LABOR ISSUE
Companies are responsible for creating jobs. Naturally. But will they be able to expand workforce participation to a point of eliminating unemployment?
Artificial intelligence, including the use of robots, will be accomplishing a greater number of human tasks with tens of millions of jobs being lost throughout the world. New kinds of employment will of course be created, but will the number of position openings be sufficient?
The trend towards "uberizing" labor has led to downsizing the workforce in favor of other types of relationships with the company. Will this trend produce a situation with smaller company staffs, while at the same time a greater number of individual entrepreneurs?
In the future, if "machines" replace - at least partially - human beings in the wealth creation process, how can the ensuing job shortage be remediated? Would it be feasible to envision, over the long term, widespread implementation of a "universal basic income", along the lines of that being experimented in Finland and the Netherlands (Utrecht)?
THE ORGANIZATIONAL ISSUE
Companies' organization and operations are in a state of flux. Such is the point of view adopted and defended by a range of corporate leaders like Pierre-André de Chalendar, CEO of Saint-Gobain, who considers that we have entered the era of "collaborative management".
What are the forms and outcomes of this management with fewer hierarchical layers? How can managers and other employees become more heavily involved in these decentralizing operations, especially with respect to raising the company's overall performance?
According to the World Happiness Report, the "100 best companies to work for in America" operate more efficiently than those not on the list: to what extent can improving employees' well-being (i.e. "workplace happiness") contribute to creativity and performance?
What is the future of telecommuting? Technological breakthroughs can definitely stimulate its further development both within firms and by outsourcing certain tasks (see above discussion on "uber-izing" labor)?
What are or might be the consequences of these changes on labor relations (specifically on trade unions)?
The collaborative approach is obviously not limited to a company's internal relations but can easily extend externally to joint corporate ventures and all the diversity they entail. Such a framework has the potential to form networks of companies (or networked companies), with a chain of segmented functions. Large "industrial" firms have already opted to no longer produce manufactured goods themselves, preferring instead to delegate this activity to subcontractors.
The advent of 3D printing could intensify this practice and introduce it into smaller-sized companies. How will this trend play out? What are the inherent risks as well as opportunities?
THE TERRITORIAL ISSUE
Will the effect of globalization lead to standardized companies? Do differences pertain solely to the scale and sector of activity or can cultural specificities exert an influence (e.g. existence of a distinct francophone company) or perhaps geographic parameters (e.g. European company)? From this perspective, does the world offer certain aggregation trends better than others; hence, would some geographic sectors be more likely than others to give rise to responsible entrepreneurship?
At the "territorial" level (country, region, city), is it possible to generate "ecosystems" that foster "local" dynamics favoring a responsible economy. What are the most appropriate examples (especially in the cities and regions hosting this Forum)?
How do public authorities, at all levels, motivate companies to assume their global responsibility? What institutional and territorial systems are available to nurture the development of responsible companies? How would call for tender clauses be written to advantage responsible companies in procurement contract awards? Moreover, what kinds of tax incentives can be granted for approaches that incorporate corporate social responsibility (CSR)?
Next comes the topic of evaluation: according to which methodology and with which set of indicators are a company's responsibility and overall performance to be measured?
Is extra-financial reporting, more widely practiced by large (or medium-sized) companies, an efficient tool? Or for some, wouldn't it be more of an alibi? A plethora of "CSR labels" are in circulation, which can on occasion lead to confusion. What's the right approach to defining consensus indicators, recognized as being - at least in theory - universal?
All these discussions can help trigger engagement from public authorities regarding the challenges of a responsible economy, in particular during election season.
The topics raised surrounding these three major issues (labor, organization and territory) will be addressed through the lens of a presentation on best practices using various "formats": plenary sessions, workshops (creative lab, CSR lab), lunchtime conferences, etc.
As mentioned above, territorial dynamics will be showcased in each of the cities hosting this Forum.