Danone, a leader in the food and beverages sector, aims “to bring health through food and beverages to a maximum number of people” (Danone, 2008a). The company‟s CSR policy, which goes back to the 1970s, is highly strategic and integrative (Garriga & Melé, 2004: 53-60). According to the company, sustainability which is how it refers to CSR) is part of its DNA (quoted in IUCN, 2008: 12). Afterbriefly describing the context of its operations and the company‟s history, I will analyse three domains where the company is actively involved in CSR activities: health & nutrition; human resources and organisational learning; and social enterprise. Finally I will use Baron‟s issue life cycle (Baron, 2000: 35) to examine how Danone has reacted – or proacted – the threat emanating from the antibottled water campaign. Overall, the company‟s CSR activities are linked to its key competencies and play a key role in strengthening its competitive advantage.
1. CONTEXT, COMPANY HISTORY & OVERVIEW. CSR in France. CSR in France has evolved as a result of endogenous and exogenous factors, as a result of the interplay between local traditions and global evolutions. At a national level, France ischaracterised by a strong public sector, and the public sentiment is that this should remain so. In 1977, France passed a Social Reporting Law (“bilan
social”), which made it mandatory for listed companies to report on social and
environmental issues. France is also characterised by large social movements, often involved in strongly conflictual relations with the State and employers; thisexplains
to a certain extent the prominence of labour issues in French CSR. It must also be said that there exists a general mistrust towards the idea that the private sector can provide for the public good; this in turn has consequences in the way CSR is communicated to the public (Beaujolin & Capron, 2005; Berthoin Antal & Sobczak, 2007). Hence, “the dynamic towards CSR started through pioneerfirms with ideological purposes, rather than „market driven‟ issues” (Beaujolin & Capron, 2005: 101). Danone was, and still is, such a pioneer. Danone 1972-2001: from foundational moments to CSR in crisis. In 1972, while most large employers were meeting in Marseilles, Antoine Riboud – “one of a rare breed of French „leftwing bosses‟” (de Bettignies et al., 2006) – pronounced a speech to the mediawhich set Danone apart from other companies. He declared that: “growth should no longer be an end in itself, but rather a tool used to serve the quality of life without ever being detrimental to it. (...) Corporate responsibility does not end at the factory gate or the office door. The jobs a business creates are central to the lives of the employees, and the energy and raw materials we consumechange the shape of our planet. Public opinion is there to remind us of our responsibility in the industrial world today” (Danone, 2008b). In Danone‟s organizational narrative, this speech lay down the foundations of what would become its principles and values: the company‟s dual commitment to economic performance and social performance. Since then, the company has strived to match the rhetoric withsignificant actions. In 1989, it was the first company to
sign an international framework agreement with an international union, the IUF. In 1991, it created the first Danone Institute, a centre charged with providing scientific information regarding nutrition. In 1998, the company published its first social and environmental report (see Timeline, Annex 1). Trouble came in 2001. In 2001,the French media announced that Danone would promptly undertake the „restructuring‟ of its biscuit axis (Danone, 2007: 14). This would entail the closure of five factories in Europe and the layoff of over 2000 workers. There are a number of reasons why this caused public outrage. First, the company was about to lay off workers while it had recorded profit growth of over ten percent and dividend...
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