Encouraging companies to make a new commitment in the fight against poverty

The historical tendencies in France are now being reversed as poverty numbers are rising. Young adults are the first victims of this shift. The state, the community and associations work each day against this ominous decline but their resources are insufficient. Although certain companies are already engaged, they remain too few. Yet, no one wins in a world that loses. The social responsibility of companies is currently being discussed. Should this not be viewed as the newest solution against extreme poverty?

Every alarm has been sounded. 13% of the French population, more than one in eight French people, are living underneath the poverty level according to INSEE. Close to 4 million people do not have access to adequate housing or are subject to poor living conditions. In 2017, 16,000 people including 6,000 minors, were living in the 571 slums identified in France. These had disappeared in the 1980s.

The unavoidable migratory pressures on Europe will only exacerbate the tendency towards pauperization. Since 2008, the requests for asylum have increased drastically to reach the historic amount of 90,000 in 2016 (Source: Ministry of Interior). The number of unaccompanied minors has increased from around 4,000 in 2012 to 25,000 in 2017. The welcome structures are overwhelmed.

Solutions do exist. Everywhere in France, traditional social actors (associations and public services) innovate and invent new approaches to respond to the extent of these challenges. These methods move away from the previous historical, institutional, uniform and less effective ones. They accentuate the importance of prevention, particularly in terms of education. They maximize the use of volunteers to operate in the least costly manner. They exploit the digital era to allow for a larger reach. They rely on transversal partnerships to break away from the traditional oppositions between associations and companies, associations and state or companies and state. However, resources are too scarce.

Despite an increasing commitment to philanthropy by companies, their investments are not sufficient to foster the conditions for a major change.  Yet, no one wins in a world that loses.

The social responsibility of companies is often limited to social or ecological measures related to their commercial activities or their relations with those benefitting from their economic activity. Yet, being socially responsible should not be confined to reducing one’s negative enivronmental impact (pollution…) or to correctly treating one’s employees and suppliers. The social responsibility of a company should extend further, benefitting not only relevant stakeholders but the entire local environment as well. When a company invests in education, it is also supporting its own future for a company with well-trained employees. When a company invests in individual support for the most destitute, it is helping these individuals regain their autonomy and thus their consumer power. When a company invests in professional integration, it is fighting against insecurity in order to contribute to an improved social cohesion.

No one wins in a world that loses. To create the conditions for a systemic change in France, there needs to be a clear break from the current ways. It is now important to give the means to businesses to uphold their social responsibility and help durably fight extreme poverty.

The 2017 Abbé Pierre Foundation report on inadequate housing