Corporate citizenship can go very far

“Corporate citizenship can go very far, as long as it does not destroy value”

The concepts of economic performance and societal commitment, far from being in conflict, are nourished by each other and work to make organisations more competitive, believes the co-founder of Webhelp, as long as they don’t destroy the values which drive a company forward.

Does a company have to be a corporate citizen today?

In 2020, it is natural. The notions of economic performance and societal commitment, far from being in conflict, feed off and make the company more competitive. Since it is impossible to commit on all fronts (the UN charter to which Webhelp adheres has no less than 17 sustainable development objectives), it is necessary to know how to arbitrate across the areas, to find a balance that will have a tangible impact on an organisation’s ecosystem and beyond.

Corporate citizenship is a general management subject that I lead as one of my main priorities. It gives me immense pleasure and can be found in Webhelp in terms of talent attractiveness, engagement, customer satisfaction, and performance. This civic responsibility is part of the DNA of Webhelp, which has been running successfully for twenty years.

How has this been delivered within Webhelp?

The PACTE law sets a framework and offers interesting initiatives to be taken up; our rationale is thus still being formulated, and rests on four pillars.

As part of the first pillar, focused on philanthropy, we federate our initiatives within an umbrella foundation. The Think Human Foundation, dedicated to reintegration and education in the forty or so countries where the group is present, has an endowment fund amounting to 1.5 million – 2 million euros annually. The latter is supplied by the shareholders, the founders and our 55,000 employees. To them are added contributions of our customers via an invoice rounding system.

The “People” pillar aims to improve employees’ careers and their professional skills as well as personal well-being. This can include health issues, for example nutrition, smoking or alcohol problems, budgeting assistance, and support actions following family tragedies.

Does an increasing adoption of automation affect this focus on thinking human?

Despite robotization and artificial intelligence, which the group happily uses, Webhelp is one of the rare players in the client industry whose strategy is based above all else on human resources. “People first” and “think human” are not empty expressions for us. For example, Webhelp proactively recruit and then train young people who are often isolated in rural areas of France or from townships in South Africa.

How has this focus been affected by the health crisis caused by COVID-19?

Protecting our employees was our first objective. At that time, there can be no question of trying to save points here or there; all notions of economics fall to the wayside. Overnight 44,000 people recreated a work environment outside of the company, with huge congratulations due to the IT professionals who made it possible to telework smoothly, so I can now speak to the group’s 55,000 employees by teleconference. Then, it was necessary to reassure employees who feared losing their jobs, particularly those who were supporting clients in tourism or air transport, two of the highest affected sectors. Today the easing of lockdown measures continues with discipline and the desire to conquer market share to ensure the sustainability of the group.

What are the other two pillars of citizen action?

One concerns important issues of ethical behaviour, such as Sapin II law, anti-corruption law, legislation, whistleblowing cells, and data protection.

The other is environmental. Even though Webhelp does not emit a lot of greenhouse gases, the group has 140 sites of around 400,000 square meters. A Carbon 4 balance has enabled us to reduce our electricity consumption by 30%. Through initiatives such as automatic standby screens for computers, reconfiguration of various electrical installations and optimization of our transport policy we are making exciting progress.

How will these commitments change in the future?

I am optimistic when I observe and listen to the younger generations. We will be able to tackle challenging climates over a reasonable period of time with more and more actions and commitments, including from the five million French SMEs keen to tackle these subjects. I invite those who claim that everything was better before, to read the Swedish author Johan Norberg.

It will be better tomorrow on the condition, however, of preventing these black swans, or even these weapons of mass destruction, that could cause cyber viruses. And we should re-examine what the notion of progress is, in an environment where we are unable to protect and to be ourselves self-sufficiently. But we will succeed!

Despite the growing economic crisis?

Against all expectations, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed for economic digitization and saved it fifteen years. Today the question is how to transform to have an even greater impact. Through introducing new technologies and using remote management, teleworking is able to support transformation and have a positive impact on the environment.

How far can we progress these societal issues as a corporate citizen?

We can go very far in the communion between Corporate Social Responsibility and economy. The limit is the destruction of the company’s competitiveness. The choices made must not downgrade this logic and destroy what drives the company forward. The notions of growth and profit remain important.