Point of view of Nicole NOTAT on Raison d’être
Interview with Nicole NOTAT, Chair of the Vigeo Eiris environmental, social and governance (ESG) ratings agency and co-author of the “Entreprise, objet d’intérêt collectif” report on the collective-interest role of businesses commissioned by the French Economy Minister Bruno LE MAIRE.
The idea of “raison d’être” was highlighted in the “Entreprise, objet d’intérêt collectif” report that you co-authored with Jean-Dominique SENARD(1) as part of the PACTE Act(2). Why this recommendation?
The government asked us to shed light on the changes in the role and responsibility of businesses in today’s world. We sought to introduce in the civil code the idea that companies had a social interest and that they should take social and environmental factors into consideration in their business. The raison d’être goes hand in hand with the idea that a company should, naturally, always work in the interests of its shareholders, but not exclusively, or in any case, not in contradiction with the interests of its stakeholders. Businesses play a central role in society. They have an environmental aspect and a social aspect, and should not be limited to generating profits.
In concrete terms, how do you define raison d’être and its issues?
In a way, it is an essential compass, a guide that determines a company’s strategic policy direction. It lends meaning to a company’s decisions and actions. It is neither a commitment charter nor a profession of faith. More than that, it engages the company and sets the direction in which the company will roll out its strategic choices.
Each entity playing a role in the evolution of the world needs to take its share of responsibility. The idea is to embed the company project in society. A range of players are concerned – from economic and financial entities to social entities (trade unions, organisations, NGOs, etc.) – and all of them need to make their contribution, each in their own dimension, to respond to the changes that need to be made and determine the conditions in which these changes should be implemented in order to be successful.
How has the corporate world responded to this concept?
Raison d’être has become quite a popular concept. Eleven French blue-chip companies defined their raison d’être in 2019, among them Crédit Agricole. For its part, the government has called on all public companies to do the same. This is a sign of increasing awareness, a feeling of urgency that businesses and the world of finance need to fully understand the challenges of tomorrow’s world.
How does the world of finance in particular take this concept into account?
The integration of sustainable performance into financial business is developing substantially. It began with equities, then emerged in bonds, with green social and sustainable bonds. And it is now developing in corporate credit, with interest rates differing according to guarantees provided by companies on the correct management of risks in this area. The world of finance is in motion. It is both a driver and a resource for encouraging other players in society, particularly businesses. And as such, it plays a key role. The next step is for investors to outline their raison d’être!
Does this raison d’être resonate with the general population?
Ours is a world in which companies elicit distrust, and this includes the world of finance. Companies are seen as being a part of the social and environmental problems facing our contemporaries. By defining a raison d’être, companies surprise people, and also generate expectations, with the population wondering if this is a sign of real change. But at the same time, vigilance is key. Businesses have to be credible. In this respect, proof is vital.
Regarding customers, what lies behind the social responsibility of a company is the attractiveness of the brand, followed by that of its products and services.
Regarding young people, a number of surveys have shown that job-seekers also choose their employer on the basis of their commitment to social and environmental responsibility. This has become a major criterion in today’s world.
In 2002, you founded Vigeo, which became Vigeo Eiris in 2015. What led you at the time to create an agency focused on ESG analysis and research?
At the time, it was a real wager. Awareness was nowhere near as strong as today, even if that year saw Jacques Chirac launch his wake-up call, “our house is on fire and we are looking elsewhere”.
While we perceived that it was still a time of “positive” globalisation, we were also starting to see the signs that would mark companies, including Enron. It was also at this time that employee savings plans were created, with the law on new economic regulations providing for the integration of environmental factors. It was in this context of transition, accompanied by rising standards on transparency, that we founded Vigeo, a true external third party that reports on the tangibility and credibility of the way in which companies ensure their social responsibilities.
Over time, this idea has assumed the scale it has today. I see growing social awareness as a worldwide phenomenon, including in emerging countries.
To conclude, the responsibilities of economic and financial agents have never been this convergent, which opens up the way to sustainable growth.
Find out more about Crédit Agricole’s raison d’être:
- A presentation of our raison d’être by Philippe Brassac, CEO of Crédit Agricole S.A.