- In what context did the social economy originate in France?
The concept of SSE is constantly evolving. Although cooperatives and mutual companies are the pioneering structures of the SSE, their status did not really take hold until the late 19th century.
The first major step is the emergence of mutual aid societies and labor associations in the 1830s. These would be today’s cooperatives. The conditions were not yet sufficiently settled, the concept of a cooperative would appear later, around 1840. At that time, a workers’ association was not an association under the law of 1901. They were production cooperatives. The first was established in 1834, it was the Association of Gold Jewelers.
Mutual Aid Societies had different functions: solidarity in the logic of mutual help and support, sociability in relation to events and banquets, and moralizing, for example, you should not drink if you want to receive compensation in the event of an accident.
Worker associations took different forms between production and consumption. The former were used to work (for example, the Association of Gold Jewelers), while others were interested in consumption and how we buy together and give access to cheap products.
The second important stage is the institutionalization and recognition social economy under the 3rd republic, at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th. This is the moment when the state recognizes that there is a social question, in particular with the proletarianization and the emerging labor movements, the first reflections on income tax, workers’ and peasants’ pensions. The 3rd Republic invents the doctrine of solidarity and tells the public that it has obligations towards its citizens and vice versa. Leon Bourgeois, head of government, is a symbolic figure.
At the same time, the new statute recognizes the social economy with the first mutual partnerships, associations (1901 law) and the first consumer cooperatives with the 1917 law. The French Mutual Association was created in 1902 and is one of the founding pillars of the social economy.
Then there is the third phase is called the development of mutual relations and associations, from the post-war period until the 1960s, when they remained closely linked to the state.
- What elements led to the emergence of SSE?
It was at the time that the welfare state became the welfare state in the 1970s, giving rise to a group of social economy actors in the network known today as ESS France. At the time it was a liaison committee formed in 1970 with cooperatives, mutual funds and five later associations. This fourth phase corresponds to what is now called the “social and solidarity economy”.
- Who are the political figures associated with its rise?
It was in the 1980s that the concept of the social economy returned to the spotlight during the founding symposium in 1977 thanks to Henri Desroches, a sociologist who gave theoretical content to this concept and name.
This is followed by the second stage of institutionalization with Michel Rocard and the creation of the 1981 inter-ministerial delegation. The first social economy law dates back to 1983. Jean Gatel became the first Secretary of State in 1984. He carried out the decentralization of the social economy in the regions.
In 1989, the social economy gained recognition at the European level thanks to Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission, who created a social economy administration and new “European” statutes for cooperatives, mutual societies and associations. But it doesn’t work except for co-ops.
Mutual relations never had such a status. It is also one of the tasks of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2022 to restore the European definition of SSE. In France, the ESS secretariat in 2000 was tasked Guy HascotGreen Party politician who created SCIC and the first business solidarity agreement, ancestor of ESUS.
This is the time when we talk about the social and “solid” economy, highlight the issues of territorial integration and new needs, such as ecology, fair trade, AMAP, etc. Most recently, in 2014, a law on Benoit Jamon and recognition of new SSE members, including foundations.
- How has SSE evolved since then?
Sector transformation was done mainly through the arrival of ESUS accreditation, which allowed “commercial” companies to implement principles of management and non-profitability similar to SSE structures. This is what justifies access to targeted funding and a special tax regime. And other funds, there should be neither shareholders nor external investors, even if there are agreements today.
I think that the size of the SSE sector is constantly discussed, and this is natural. The risk, if we do not fit, is that the displayed public interest goal is only related to logic social business make money on environmental and social issues.
If the SSE is to become the norm of tomorrow, and if we want to ‘essenize’ the economy, we must adopt strategies of alliance and opening without denying its value while remaining unique.
- What is the place for companies with a mission in SSE?
I think it’s movement which develops “together” with SSE. The good news is that companies want to implement quality on the go, which is more in line with today’s challenges. But let’s not forget that companies are made up of capital, and in SFE historically these are groups of people.
I also think that some companies are following the logic of capitalist reform, a concept that is suffocating, heavily criticized and not viable. Some of their activities are doomed to disappear, and they realize that in order to initiate change, their internal CSR policies can become very strategic.
Will capitalism change? Have. In any case, I often hear that some companies with a mission feel better equipped with this quality to conquer new international markets. So it’s positive and ESS plays a very important facilitating role and needs to be constantly one step ahead, that’s its real job.
- Finally, do we have the impression that we are at a turning point?
Yes clear. The SSE must position itself in relation to the major changes that affect us, such as the ecological, digital, demographic transition, etc. The SSE is the economy of tomorrow, so it must accompany these major changes and validate them politically. This is also the subject of the next SSE congress in December.
This is a sector that should be exemplary, inventing new models such as the appearance of unicorns. And she must swarm. I find it very good that regular companies are supporting ESS and are looking to copy the model. At the same time, we must remain demanding of them.